VERONA -- Dominion Resources said Thursday that in-line inspections of a natural gas pipeline the company is considering would be done every seven years with pipeline in high consequence areas checked more frequently.
A high consequence area is defined as an area that is populated, one where drinking water sources are, or those with sensitive ecological resources.
The company is expected to make a decision in the next 60 days on the Southeast Reliability Project, a 550-mile natural gas pipeline that would run from West Virginia to North Carolina, and would cross nearly 43 miles of Augusta County.
Frank Mack, the manager of Dominion Transmission Communications, said the company does aerial patrols of pipelines on a monthly basis, and leak patrols on a quarterly basis. He said there are line-of-sight pipeline markers in high consequence areas that allow someone to see the next marker in either direction.
Concerns from Augusta County residents about pipeline leaks were a topic of discussion during a public meeting on the pipeline Wednesday night at the Augusta County Government Center. Mack said leaks can be detected in many ways including by aerial patrols, walking patrols and through the company's gas control group. That group monitors pipelines 24 hours a day and looks for any change in gas pressure.
When a leak is identified, Dominion excavates the pipeline, evaluates the problem and repairs it as quickly as possible.
Another safety measure are relief valves that are automated or manual. Mack said the automated values are coordinated by the gas control group 24 hours a day.
Dominion told Augusta County residents Wednesday night that even with a smooth application process to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project would take two years to construct. The pipeline would not be operational until 2018.
Those Augusta County residents who spoke to county supervisors late Wednesday after the Dominion presentation and question and answer session, expressed doubt about what the pipeline would ulitmately mean for Augusta County.
Nancy Sorrells, the coordinator of the Augusta County Alliance, said despite Dominion's claims of a strong safety record, the possibility of disaster would always lurk with the pipeline.
"We, the citizens of Augusta County would like to point out that even a 99.9 percent record of safety on a 42-inch diameter pipeline that is 550 miles in length, and will carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas under high pressure every day is scary,'' Sorrells said. "There is a man-made weld every 40 feet. That means that every 40 feet there is the possibility of failure."
Questions about the impact of the pipeline on property values in Augusta County were given vague answers by Dominion. The company's representatives said property owners should check with the local assessor.
But a local realtor said she believes the pipeline would negatively affect property values. Charlottesvile realtor Shannon Harrington said those who are in the route of the proposed pipeline are moving to new residences outside of the path. And Harrington said even once grass grows over a pipeline area, property owners "know it (the pipeline) is still there."
The decision to approve the pipeline will ultimately lie with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Other approvals will be needed for river crossings from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Mack said Dominion stresses safety and prevention through the company's mangement and damage prevention programs.
"Though no operator can assure or guarantee safety, these programs proactively assess the integrity of our gas pipelines through regular inspections, pigging and around-the-clock monitoring by our gas control group,'' he said. Regulation of pipelines comes from the federal government's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Sorrells offered credit to Augusta County Supervisors Wednesday for doggedly asking questions of Dominion representatives about the impact of the pipeline on county economic development, its location near schools and residences.
"Rest assured you are doing a lot and we appreciate it,'' Sorrells said. "And your stand and your questions here tonight prove that. You are doing what you were elected to do in a very difficult situation."