Loudoun Officials Caught Off-Guard by Dominion’s New Compressor Expansion Plans

Dominion Transmission’s Leesburg Compressor Station in Loudoun County, Va./Photo by Mark Hand

Local lawmakers are bewildered by Dominion Resources Inc.’s latest plans to upgrade a natural gas pipeline compressor station in Loudoun County, Va., less than two years after the company promised no new compressor expansions in the area would be forthcoming.

The planned compression expansion is part of a project that Dominion is calling Eastern Market Access, a project that will increase capacity on its Dominion Cove Point pipeline by about 294,000 dekatherms per day. Washington Gas, the natural gas utility for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, and Panda Power Funds, developer of the proposed Mattawoman Energy Center in Maryland, have agreed to long-term firm contracts for equal shares of the planned new capacity.

“In the similar application a couple years ago, they said they weren’t going to do this again,” Tony Buffington, Blue Ridge District supervisor on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview at an Oct. 26 informational meeting held by Dominion at a local elementary school. “They said they wouldn’t be coming forward with anything like this. If anything, they would downsize. So there’s a concern that, well, if you said that last time and now you’re coming forward with this, why should anybody believe anything you’re saying?”

Buffington’s district includes the community that is home to two Dominion compressor stations as well as a Columbia Gas Transmission compressor station. “They basically are apologetic for the previous instance where they made that statement, and they said they shouldn’t have made that statement,” the Republican supervisor said of Dominion.

The previous company statements referred to a proposed compression upgrade related to Dominion’s Cove Point liquefaction and pipeline project, Dominion said. For a subsequent project, Dominion filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2015 to install one new 8,000-horsepower electric compressor unit at its Leesburg Compressor Station as part of its larger Leidy South Project. After receiving a FERC certificate of approval in August, Dominion has begun work on the Leidy South Project, with a projected in-service date of October 2017.

In its latest announcement, Dominion said it plans to add 7,000 horsepower of compression to the Loudoun Compressor Station as part of the Eastern Market Access project. Buffington said Dominion officials told him that the Eastern Market Access project application is based on the amount of pipeline capacity and compression the company knows it will need now. But the company did not rule out the possibility of another similar request in the future, he said.

In an Oct. 27 statement, Dominion said demand for natural gas to meet residential, business and power-generation uses continues to grow quickly in the region. “Just as local officials and community planners must manage the demand for new schools, roads and other services that comes with a growing population, we too must expand our pipelines and power lines to meet increasing energy demands,” the company said. “We have designed this project to have the least impact possible on neighboring property owners, including the addition of electric compression.”

Va. House Member Opposes New Compression Expansion

Virginia Del. J. Randall Minchew, who represents the 10th district, which includes the community around the compressor stations, expressed disappointment with Dominion and is urging the company not to file the application with FERC for the Eastern Market Access compression expansion.

Public officials had an understanding, Minchew emphasized, that Dominion would not add new compression at either the Leesburg or Loudoun compressor stations. Minchew said he plans to work at both the state and county levels to stop the project to ensure the health and welfare of the residents who live near the compressor stations can be protected.

Entrance to Dominion’s Loudoun Compressor Station southeast of Leesburg, Va./Photo by Mark Hand

Dominion created a stir in the county when it vented its Loudoun Compressor Station on Sept. 26. Natural gas, mixed with an odorant for detection, spread as far as 10 miles east and north of the station. The local police and fire departments received more than 100 emergency calls.

Buffington said his office received “very late notice” about the venting. “My office got notice Friday afternoon and they did it Monday morning. It’s hard to get a news flash typed up and sent to constituents in order for them to read it and understand what’s going on,” he said.

Dominion is planning to conduct another round of venting at the compressor station on Nov. 1 and 3. But the company and county officials plan to make sure the community is better informed beforehand about what is happening, Buffington said.

Dominion owns the Leesburg Compressor Station, which serves its Dominion Transmission Inc.’s PL-1 line. On the opposite side of Watson Road southeast of the town of Leesburg, Dominion also owns the Loudoun Compressor Station, which serves the Dominion Cove Point Pipeline, a transportation system that interconnects with Dominion Transmission’s PL-1 line.

The Eastern Access Market project represents the third proposed expansion at its two compressor stations in Loudoun County in the last four years. In 2012, the community protested Dominion’s plans to add compression to its Loudoun Compressor Station as part of the Cove Point liquefaction project. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing the company’s plans to add the compression. In response to the county’s concerns, the company changed its plans and opted to add 62,500 horsepower of compression to its Pleasant Valley compressor station in neighboring Fairfax County as part of the Cove Point liquefaction and pipeline project.

Residents Rally Against Compression Expansion

About 20 people held a rally at Dominion’s Oct. 26 informational meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the Eastern Market Access project. The open house occurred one day after Dominion held a similar informational meeting in Charles County, Md., where the company plans to build a new compressor station as part of the project.

The demonstrators in Loudoun County expressed concerns about the potential health effects from the routine venting and blow-downs that occur at the compressor stations and questioned why Dominion announced the Eastern Access Market project so soon after receiving approval for the Leidy South Project. “Compressor stations have been shown to pose a health risk to those who live close by. Greene Mill Preserve is a community of over two hundred residents and is only one mile from the station,” local climate justice group 350 Loudoun, organizer of the rally, said in a news release.

Loudoun County, Va., Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall./Photo courtesy of Phyllis J. Randall

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall also attended the Dominion open house. “Part of the reason I’m here is to learn why they’re doing it, why they need it, how it will affect Loudoun and how it will affect people in other counties and even in other states,” Randall said.

Randall, a Democrat who became the first African-American woman in the history of Virginia elected to chair a county board of supervisors, said she used both the “frequently-asked-questions” sheet provided by Dominion and the list of questions handed to her by the demonstrators to learn as much as possible about the project. “I’m pushing very hard for Dominion to give me the answers that are not on their frequently-asked-questions list,” she said.

After the venting incident in September, Randall said she heard complaints from residents. But she also has heard concerns about natural gas pipelines and shale gas drilling in general. “It’s not just about, ‘Are you going to expand the compressor station?’ It’s about how healthy is this for our neighbors.” Randall, along with her fellow board colleagues, may hold an informational session on the project “because I think it’s important for everyone to know,” she said.

“Some of what I’m hearing is concerning,” she said. “What’s really concerning is mostly not what’s happening in Loudoun, but what’s happening where the natural gas is being produced. For me, I’m, of course, here as chair of the Loudoun County board. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people in other countries and other states.”

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