Op-Ed: Connecting the Dots on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline


The phrase “connecting the dots” stems from the children’s activity of drawing lines between dots in a particular sequence to create a picture. It also refers to the process of understanding the big picture by piecing together the evidence. As overused as this phrase may be, it certainly applies understanding impact the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) has on the West Virginia economy.

If you haven’t followed the story, here’s a summary. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will stretch over 600 miles and will carry natural gas to markets south of us. In December a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit caused a temporary suspension on work then being conducted across 300 miles of the project and involving approximately 2,000 workers in West Virginia. The Court denied ACP’s request to narrow the scope of its stay to affected areas, leading to a suspension of virtually all work.

Now, let’s connect the dots:

1. GAS PRODUCTION - The boom in natural gas production is real. It reached 1.6 trillion cubic feet in 2017 and is projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration to continue to increase. Investments are being made and West Virginians are benefitting from the extraction of this resource in many ways, not the least of which is the overall reduction of the carbon footprint from electrical energy creation. However, production is only necessary if there are markets for the product and a way to get it to them.

2. MARKET– We do not use all of the gas produced in West Virginia, but people elsewhere in the U.S. want it. While some questioned the market the fact is that ACP investors are willing to invest $7 billion in this project based on their belief in it.

3. ENVIRONMENT– Preserving the environment is important to us all. No one denies that precautions must be taken. That is why rules are made and why government agencies are empowered to enforce them, as they have in this case. Yet the Court has permitted questions to stop the work – for what now appears to be at least six months, thus increasing the cost of the project.

4. ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND SMALL BUSINESSES – Great emphasis is now being placed on entrepreneurship in many of our West Virginia colleges and universities. Encouraging people to take risks and create new businesses is seen as a path to prosperity in the state. This sudden unexpected work stoppage not only threatens the livelihoods of many people, but threatens the survival of some small businesses. This will certainly have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to take future risks.

5. DOWNSTREAM MANUFACTURING – The production of much of the natural gas in West Virginia is accompanied by natural gas liquids, which can serve as feedstock for the petrochemical manufacturing industry. The American Chemistry Council estimates that the Appalachian region could generate as many as 100,000 new jobs through the use these liquids. However, connecting the dots, we must have gas production and transmission to support this manufacturing.

In fact, the West Virginia Roundtable, an organization of CEOs in the state, and which I serve as president, has identified the creation of a storage hub for natural gas liquids as its top economic development priority.

It would be easy to identify more “dots” and to construct a more complete picture. The ACP as a stand-alone project is important, but it is made even more so because it is an integral part of a bigger picture. Indeed, virtually every West Virginian has an interest that will be served by the success of the ACP, either directly, or by some part of the rest of the picture.

We West Virginians sometimes consider ourselves isolated and unconnected from the bigger picture of the economic success which has brought an unprecedented standard of living to America. In truth, we are all very much connected and our best interests are served when we see ourselves as part of that picture and do our part to advocate for progress. Let’s connect the dots for a more prosperous West Virginia and continue work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.