A controversial natural gas pipeline planned for parts of the U.S. East Coast could extend into South Carolina, according to a recording of an industry executive obtained by The Associated Press.
The $5 billion pipeline project would begin in West Virginia, cut through the center of Virginia and run into eastern North Carolina, transporting natural gas to generate electricity mostly in Virginia and North Carolina.
While speaking at the S.C. Clean Energy Summit in Columbia, Dan Weekley, vice president of Southern operations for Dominion, said the pipeline is expected to extend into South Carolina. An attendee shared the recording anonymously with the AP.
Current public plans do not call for extending the pipeline into South Carolina, although many industry experts have said it is a possibility.
“Even though it dead-ends at Lumberton (North Carolina) — of course, 12 miles to the border — everybody knows it’s not going to end in Lumberton,” Weekley said in the recording, adding that it could go toward the Lowcountry or the Midlands, depending on power needs.
The company announced several infrastructure projects in South Carolina in 2016, dubbed the Charleston Project. Columbia-based Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission submitted plans in 2016 to federal regulators for the $119.3 million project that involves construction of about 60 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines to deliver 80,000 dekatherms per day to customers. Construction began in the spring, and it is expected to be in service by the end of the year.
The company said the Charleston Project and the Altantic Coast Project are not related or connected.
"The purpose of this project is to help meet the growing need for clean, reliable and domestic natural gas in South Carolina," company spokeswoman Kristen Beckham said of the Charleston Project. "Additional supplies of natural gas are needed in South Carolina to improve regional energy security, and to meet increasing and projected demand from local, residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers."
Regarding the Atlantic Coast Project, company spokeswoman Jen Kostyniuk said no decision has been made about a potential expansion. She said an extended pipeline has always been a possibility, particularly as South Carolina’s manufacturing base grows and demands more energy.
She said the company often hears from S.C. utilities and economic developers about the need for new infrastructure to expand access to natural gas across the state.
“From the very beginning we have been clear and consistent that the infrastructure could be expanded in the future, while continuing to meet the needs already identified in Virginia and North Carolina,” Kostyniuk said in an email.
Any expansion of the pipeline path would require additional regulatory reviews and approvals.
Kostyniuk said Weekley’s comments stemmed from the panel moderator asking about long-term plans. Weekley responded by saying that the plan is to complete the proposed project, but that an expansion is possible. The timing and feasibility of an expansion would be contingent on market needs.
“Everyone agrees at some point the state will need new infrastructure to meet those growing needs, and as one of the nation’s largest transmission pipeline operators, we’re part of those discussions,” Kostyniuk said. “That’s the context in which Dan Weekley made his comments last week.”
Proponents have said the pipeline would lower energy costs, boost economic development efforts and create jobs. Opponents have concerns about environmental impacts and for the landowners in the pipeline’s path.