Friday, August 4, 2017

Episode 380 (8-7-17): Natural Gas Pipelines, Water Resources, and the Clean Water Act

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (5:10).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-4-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 7, 2017.

This week, we feature a series of water and energy mystery sounds.   Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess what kind of pipeline-transported fuel is the subject of Clean Water Act-related public hearings in Virginia this week.  And here’s a hint: you can’t see this fuel naturally, but you can see it in the news.

SOUNDS - ~22 sec

If you guessed natural gas, you’re right!  A gas furnace, a gas meter at an industrial building, and the buzz of a power line all represent uses of natural gas.  The flowing water sound is from Sinking Creek in Giles County, Va., a water body potentially affected by one of two currently proposed natural gas pipelines in Virginia.  The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from West Virginia to North Carolina, crossing approximately 307 miles in Virginia from Highland County to the City of Chesapeake.  The Mountain Valley Pipeline would also begin in West Virginia but end in Virginia, crossing approximately 106 miles in Virginia from Craig County to Pittsylvania County.

In summer 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, issued a final Environmental Impact Statement for each proposal.   According to those documents, the two pipelines collectively and in all states would involve over 2700 waterbody crossings; hundreds of wetland acres; dozens of miles of karst terrain featuring sinkholes, caves, and wells; and dozens of miles of areas with steep slopes.  Both documents assert that most impacts on these and other natural resources would be, quote, “less than significant,” but those assertions have been challenged by opponents of the projects.  The projects now await a decision by FERC commissioners. If approved by them, the projects would then move to other permitting processes, including those under the federal Clean Water Act.

Under that law, any activity that may discharge pollutants, including dredged-and-fill material, into the waters of the United States requires certain permits.   For the pipeline projects, stream and wetland crossings would be subject to the Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit #12 for utility line activities.  The Clean Water Act also requires states to certify whether projects granted licenses by federal agencies, like FERC, meet federal and state water-quality laws and regulations; this is known as Section 401 Water Quality Certification.  For the two pipeline projects, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, has proposed to grant 401 certification for the stream and wetland crossings if the Corps issues the nationwide permit, but with additional conditions for upland activities that may affect water resources.  The proposed additional conditions concern steep slopes, karst terrain, spills, riparian areas, acid-forming materials, public water supplies, horizontal drilling, hydrostatic pressure testing, and dust control.

The proposed conditions are the subject of a public comment period ending August 22, and a series of public hearings—for the Mountain Valley project in Radford August 8 and Chatham August 9; and for the Atlantic Coast project in Harrisonburg August 7, Farmville August 10, and Alberta August 14.

Clean Water Act procedures, and indeed water resources altogether, are only part of complicated and controversial gas pipeline proposals.  But pipelines and water are clearly the focus in Virginia during this month of August 2017.

[Additional note, not in the audio: Two more information hearings on the DEQ’s proposed additional conditions for 401 certification will take place on August 10, 2017, at 1 p.m. at the Newport Community Center, 434 Bluegrass Trail in Newport (Giles County); and at 5 p.m. at Cave Spring High School, 3712 Chaparral Drive in the City of Roanoke.  These meetings were organized by Virginia House of Delegates members Greg Habeeb and Joseph Yost.  Verbal comments at these meetings won’t be recorded or considered submitted by the Virginia DEQ.]


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The natural gas furnace sound was excerpted from a recording by “daveincamas,” dated November 5, 2011, and made available for public use by, online at, under the Creative Commons Attribution License.  The gas meter at an industrial building sound was excerpted from a recording by “jpberger,” dated December 24, 2008, and made available for public use by, online at, under the Creative Commons Attibution Noncommercial License.  For more information on Creative Commons licenses, please see

All other sounds were recorded by Virginia Water Radio.  The stream sound was of Sinking Creek in Giles County, Va., recorded on December 21, 2015.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Map of the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Final Environmental Impact Statement, issued July 21, 2017, p. 1-4; available online at

Map of the proposed route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Final Environmental Impact Statement, issued June 23, 2017, p. 1-3; available online at
The two photos above were taken at the August 8, 2017, public hearing held by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at Radford University.


From the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Natural Gas Explained,” online at

“Natural gas occurs deep beneath the earth's surface.  Natural gas consists mainly of methane, a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.  Natural gas also contains small amounts of hydrocarbon gas liquids and nonhydrocarbon gases.  We use natural gas as a fuel and to make materials and chemicals. …Because natural gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, distributors add mercaptan (a chemical that smells like sulfur) to give natural gas a distinct unpleasant odor (it smells like rotten eggs).  This added odor serves as a safety device by allowing it to be detected in the atmosphere in cases where leaks occur.”

From From the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Use of Natural Gas,” online at

“The United States used about 27.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas in 2015, the equivalent of 28.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) and 29% of total U.S. energy consumption.
Natural gas use by U.S. consuming sectors in 2015:
Electric power—9.7 Tcf;
Industrial—9.1 Tcf ;
Residential—4.6 Tcf;
Commercial—3.2 Tcf;
Transportation—0.9 Tcf.

“Most U.S. natural gas is used to heat buildings and to generate electricity, but some consuming sectors have other uses for natural gas.
“The electric power sector uses natural gas to generate electricity.   In 2015, natural gas was the source of about 26% of U.S. electric power sector energy consumption.  (Other consuming sectors also use natural gas to generate electricity.)
“The industrial sector uses natural gas as a fuel for process heating and for combined heat and power systems and as a raw material (feedstock) to produce chemicals, fertilizer, and hydrogen.  In 2015, natural gas was the source of about 30% of U.S. industrial sector energy consumption.
“The residential sector uses natural gas to heat buildings and water, to cook, and to dry clothes. About half of the homes in the United States use natural gas for these purposes.   In 2015, natural gas was the source of about 23% of U.S. residential sector energy consumption.
“The commercial sector uses natural gas to heat buildings and water, to operate refrigeration and cooling equipment, to cook, to dry clothes, and to provide outdoor lighting.  Some consumers in the commercial sector also use natural gas as a fuel in combined heat and power systems.   In 2015, natural gas was the source of about 18% of U.S. commercial sector energy consumption.
“The transportation sector uses natural gas as a fuel to operate compressors that move natural gas through pipelines.  A relatively small amount of natural gas is used as vehicle fuel in the form of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas.   Nearly all vehicles that use natural gas as a fuel are in government and private vehicle fleets.  In 2015, natural gas was the source of about 3% of U.S. transportation sector energy consumption, of which 97% was for natural gas pipeline and distribution operations.”

Pipeline Company Information
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, online at, is being
proposed by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, online at, is being proposed by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, a joint venture of EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.”]

From the Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, “Water Protection for Pipelines,” online at

“…[F]ive regulatory and review tools provide comprehensive oversight and thorough technical evaluation to ensure that Virginia’s water quality is protected.
1) Environmental impact review.  DEQ, along with Virginia’s other natural resource agencies, submitted numerous comments and recommendations on the draft environmental impact statements published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for these pipelines….
2) Stormwater, erosion, and sediment control.  DEQ is requiring each pipeline developer to submit detailed, project-specific erosion and sedimentation control and stormwater plans for every foot of land disturbance related to pipeline construction, including access roads and construction lay-down areas….”
3) Federal wetlands and stream regulation.   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is the federal regulatory partner in permitting dredge and fill activities in wetlands and streams.   The Corps’ Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 requires that water quality is protected during the construction of pipelines in wetlands and streams.  The Corps will evaluate each wetland and stream crossing to see if it is consistent with the conditions of NWP 12.  Because the Corps’ permit only covers construction activities that cross a wetland or stream, DEQ is addressing other water quality impacts through its water certification authority….
4) Virginia water quality certification.  DEQ will require water quality certification conditions for all potentially impacted water resources related to activities that may affect water quality outside the temporary construction impacts to stream and wetland crossings. ...DEQ also will hold public hearings on the draft conditions.  Once the comment period has ended, DEQ will recommend certification conditions for the State Water Control Board’s consideration.
5) Water quality monitoring.  DEQ will conduct its own water quality monitoring [Va. DEQ, Water Quality Monitoring, online at] to evaluate water quality conditions at a number of locations. Monitoring is expected to begin in the fall of 2017.”


Used in Audio

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, online at

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project (CP15-554-000, -001; CP15-555-000; and CP15-556-000), issued July 21, 2017; available online at

FERC, “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Project and Equitrans Expansion Project (CP16-10-000 and CP16-13-000), issued June 23, 2017; available online at

Lynn M. Gallagher and Swidler B. S. Friedman, Clean Water Handbook, Third Edition, Government Institutes, Rockville, Md., 2003.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, online at

Permitting Dashbord, “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines,” online at

Mark A. Ryan, ed., The Clean Water Act Handbook, Second Edition, American Bar Association Publishing, Chicago, Ill., 2003.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “Nationwide Permits,” online at

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Natural Gas Explained,” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Clean Water Act/Section 401 Certification,” online at

U.S. EPA, “Clean Water Act and Federal Facilities,” online at

U.S. EPA, Text of the 1972 Clean Water Act, online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “Frequently Asked Questions about the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines,” online (as PDF) at

Virginia DEQ, “Water Protection for Pipelines,” online at

Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, “Meetings,” online at Following are hyperlinks to the meeting dates for public hearings on draft Section 401 Certification.
For the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline:
8/7/17, 6 p.m., At James Madison University, Festival Conference and Student Center Grand Ballroom, 1301 Carrier Drive in Harrisonburg;
8/10/17, 6 p.m., at Longwood University, Jarman Auditorium, 201 High Street in Farmville;
8/14/17, 6 p.m., at Southside Virginia Community College, Center for Workforce Development, Christanna Campus, 109 Campus Drive, Alberta (Brunswick County).
For the proposed Mountain Valley pipeline:
8/8/17, 6 p.m., at Radford University, Preston/Bondurant Auditorium, 801 East Main Street in Radford;
8/9/17, 6 p.m., at Chatham High School Auditorium, 100 Cavalier Circle in Chatham (Pittsylvania County).

For More Information about Natural Gas in Virginia

Virginia Water Resources Research Center/Water Central News Grouper, “Natural Gas Drilling and Transport in Virginia under Close Scrutiny in 2014-17 – Summary of Developments and Cumulative List of News Items,” first posted 10/31/14; and Section 401 Water Quality Permit Certification Process in Virginia for Proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Natural Gas Pipeline Projects, first posted 5/25/17. Other Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to natural gas are available online at

News Items on the Clean Water 401 Certification Process for Proposed Gas Pipelines in Virginia
(most recent listed first)

Pipeline meeting draws project supporters, opponents, WHSV TV-Harrisonburg, 8/8/17.
DEQ hearings to focus on water quality impacts of Mountain Valley Pipeline, Roanoke Times, 8/7/17.
While other states go along, NY says no to gas pipelines
, Bay Journal, 7/20/17.
DEQ agrees to add informal meetings on Mountain Valley Pipeline, Roanoke Times, 7/18/17.
Call for additional DEQ public hearings on pipeline falls flat, Roanoke Times, 7/12/17.
Virginia DEQ Holds Public Comment Period on NatGas Pipeline Permits, Natural Gas Intelligence, 7/7/17.
Va. to expand review of proposed gas pipelines
, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/30/17.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the Community/Organizations subject category for Virginia state agencies involved with water; see also the Energy subject category.

Following are links to some episodes related to aspects of water quality, its regulation in Virginia, or both:
Clean Water Act jurisdiction – Episode 69, 6/8/15;
Groundwater generally – Episode 306, 3/7/16;
Virginia State Water Control Board – Episode 94, 1/9/12;
Virginia Marine Resources Commission – Episode 91, 12/5/11;
Water quality introduction – Episode 378, 7/24/17;
Wetlands introduction – Episode 327, 8/1/16.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.11 – sources of energy.
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Force, Motion, and Energy Theme
6.2 – energy sources, transformations, and uses.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.6 – renewable vs. non-renewable resources (including energy resources).
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.18 - cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at