RICHMOND — Dominion Resources Inc. is considering building an approximately 450-mile-long natural gas transmission pipeline from West Virginia through Virginia to southern North Carolina that would go into service by the end of 2018.

The project is in the "extremely preliminary" stage, company spokesman Jim Norvelle said. "We have not decided to do this."

The new pipeline, called the Dominion Southeast Reliability Project, would extend from the natural-gas rich Marcellus and Utica shale production regions in the Appalachians to markets in Virginia and North Carolina, according to a statement from Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion Resources' chairman, president, and CEO.

"We think there's interest in getting natural gas from the Appalachian Basin into Virginia and North Carolina," Norvelle said Tuesday.

Such a pipeline could cost as much as $2 billion to build, based on current construction prices for large U.S. gas pipelines.

As envisaged, the pipeline would run along a corridor from an interconnection with a Dominion Transmission pipeline in Harrison County, W.Va., through Virginia to Greensville County and on to Lumberton, N.C.

The pipeline would enter the state in Highland County in western Virginia and run in a southeasterly direction through Nelson, Buckingham, Dinwiddie and Brunswick counties where it turns southward toward North Carolina.

The proposal features a 70-mile spur line in Greensville County to Hampton Roads, and a short connection to the 1,358-megawatt, natural-gas fueled Brunswick Power Station near Lawrenceville in Brunswick County. In North Carolina, spurs would run to the Raleigh and Fayetteville areas.

While the company has not identified a specific route for the proposed line, "we have begun notifying landowners we'll be on their property as early as this summer to begin surveying for the best possible route," Norvelle said. "Just because we're surveying doesn't mean your property has been selected for the route."

Dominion Transmission Inc., the Dominion Resources' interstate gas transmission and storage subsidiary, anticipates building the pipeline during 2017-18 and putting it into service as early as the end of 2018.

According to the Dominion Resources' annual meeting presentation May 7, the recent, unusually cold winter highlighted need for southeastern gas infrastructure, with the proposed pipeline project giving customers access to additional supply basins.

Pipeline companies seeking to construct natural gas pipeline facilities must obtain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Dominion Transmission issued what's termed a non-binding open-season notice for the project April 16.

FERC requires the open-season process to ensure that interested parties are made aware of new pipeline projects and to determine if there is sufficient customer interest to pursue projects.

Dominion Transmission has 7,800 miles of pipeline in six states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The company also operates one of the largest underground natural gas storage systems in the United States with links to other major pipelines and markets in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

Dominion Transmission stores and transports large quantities of natural gas for major customers, such as utilities and power plants. Dominion Transmission also is a producer and supplier of natural gas liquids at facilities in West Virginia and Maryland.

As a result of its extensive natural gas processing and pipeline system in the gas-rich Marcellus shale region underlying the Appalachian basin, Dominion Resources says it is well positioned to take advantage of the region's natural gas opportunities.

Environmentalists are concerned about the proposal's impacts.

"This cannot happen without long-term damage to the ecologic and hydrologic integrity of the Allegheny Highlands, among the best and least altered natural landscapes in the eastern U.S.," said Rick Webb, a senior scientist with the University of Virginia's Department of Environmental Science, "and it will add to the factors that are driving environmentally irresponsible gas drilling practices."

Shale gas refers to natural gas that is trapped within shale formations. Shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas.

Over the past decade, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed access to large volumes of shale gas that were previously uneconomical to produce.

Production of natural gas from shale formations has rejuvenated the natural gas industry in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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