Dominion Energy, which markets fossil (“natural”) gas in the Asheville area, has applied to the National Park Service for a permit to construct a 12-inch gas pipeline underneath our Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail near the French Broad River. In its EA (environmental assessment) to NPS, Dominion claims that the pipeline will have no impact on people, water, animals or vegetation, and those impacts can be “dismissed.”
In fact, Dominion’s pipeline drilling and installation could have a number of harmful impacts, which cannot be dismissed.
Water: Horizontal direct drilling of the sort which Dominion is proposing under the parkway usually requires a mix of chemicals and lubricants. Some of these, like diesel fuel, are toxic to living creatures, including humans. It is likely that Dominion will use some of these potentially toxic chemicals in its drilling.
Also, Dominion says that the primary lubricant will be unspecified quantities of water from the French Broad River, which we know contains pathogens which Dominion does not mention. At a minimum, Dominion should be required to specify quantities, types and toxicity of whatever chemicals and lubricants it is proposing to use. (When I buy a $1 can of processed food, I get more information about what’s in it than Dominion has provided for a multimillion dollar pipeline.)
But Dominion claims there will be no adverse above-ground disruptions. Everyone who lives in these mountains knows — but Dominion has chosen to ignore — that our mountains are full of underground streams and aquifers, which the drilling could clog, disrupt or even poison. Many of us drink this underground water out of springs and wells. Many animals do, too. Since water is life, its drilling would impact life on the surface. The EA must analyze these impacts.
Safety: It is well known that pipelines leak gas and do cause fires or even explosions. In 2019, a gas explosion in Durham killed several people and destroyed several buildings. Although the EA says the pipeline cannot be placed elsewhere due to safety concerns, it does not mention possible safety concerns on the heavily trafficked parkway and our Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Global warming: Dominion’s pipeline likely will feed gas to the new $650 million Pratt & Whitney jet engine factory being built nearby. But Dominion’s EA does not analyze the pipeline’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions or global warming. At a minimum, the EA should specify how many tons of greenhouse gases the factory’s eight furnaces would emit.
Review and comment process: Although Dominion started developing planning four years ago, the public was given only one month to comment. This is insufficient time for an adequate response to a complicated and potentially environmentally and life-damaging project.
Summary: We are asking NPS to extend the EA comment period two months; hold public hearings; and require Dominion to submit a much more detailed environmental impact statement. NPS must learn from past experiences with Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution, Chemtronics and CTS Superfund sites and other environmental disasters in the Asheville area, and not allow Dominion to get by with an inadequate environmental assessment.
— Steven Norris