Natural gas company TC Energy wants to widen some of its pipelines and double the horsepower of the compressor station located in Prince George on the border of Petersburg in a plan dubbed the “Virginia Reliability Project” (VRP). In doing so, more air-borne pollutants will be emitted from the station.
The levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide will exceed the safety integrity level (SIL) standards for those living within .6 miles of the compressor station, according to the report released by FERC, the government agency tasked with regulating the transmission of natural gas and electricity. These gases can also affect the lungs.
Petersburg already has the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in Central Virginia. Petersburg has the worst health outcomes in the state according to the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute study released in 2022.
It’s also considered an “environmental justice community,” made up of poor communities or people of color that disproportionately bear the health hazards of pollutants and experience a reduced quality of life.
The compressor station is responsible for moving gas through the underground pipelines. Ultimately, TC Energy says it wants to deliver more gas to businesses and residents in Hampton Roads for cooking and heating.
We talked to residents who live around the station to get their input. Here are some of our findings:
The compressor station is situated right in a residential neighborhood.
A majority of the nine residents we spoke to were not aware of TC Energy’s latest plans. Only one of the residents we talked to said he knew the VRP would result in an increase in pollutants. He knew about this because he has a friend working at compressor station.
Many did not want pollutants to increase. Though most of the residents are not happy with the fact that pollutants will increase, they also expressed that there is nothing they can do to stop a big company from doing what it wants. Others said they did not want to get involved. Only one said he was not bothered by the increase of pollutants.
One particular family who has an underlying health condition of asthma told us that their symptoms have gotten worse since they moved to the area.
Those that live closest to the compressor station will bear the higher risk of experiencing respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, sore throat and shortness of breath and may also experience symptoms such as headaches and burning eyes, said retired epidemiologist Suzanne Keller.
There have been gaps in communication from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate natural gas companies.
The agency that oversees the transmission of natural gas, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is responsible for sending out letters informing people of public comment sessions and TC Energy’s plans. Their method of informing people through mail falls short: they only send out letters to landlords and those that live within a half mile radius of the station. Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that people will receive a letter.
Many citizens expressed they had no idea of TC Energy’s plans.
At a recent public comment session held on April 25 by FERC employees, citizens left feeling more confused and felt they didn’t receive substantial answers. When asked what specific impacts this project will have, employees kept directing citizens to read a 500-page document filled with scientific jargon to find answers. No TC Energy employee was present to provide answers.
You can view FERC’s draft environmental impact statement report here.
What has been Petersburg officials’ responses?
Petersburg leaders have expressed support for the project, including Councilman Howard Myers and Sen. Joe Morrissey who say that it will bring a lot of jobs to the region.
Last year, Myers and Mayor Sam Parham signed pre-written letters that expressed their support in the VRP that stated that the VRP will create over 3,600 jobs and generate approximately $194 million in associated income for the region’s workers.
However, these numbers and the economic benefit to the city seem to be inflated. Since the compressor station is located on the Prince George side of the county lines, Petersburg will receive no tax revenue from the project.
The VRP will give a one-time pulse of economic activity to Prince George, including $1.1 million in associated labor income according to TC Energy’s website. Furthermore, it will only bring 26 temporary jobs to the region since TC Energy plans just to install two new gas coolers; no major construction is needed on the compressor station.
Has this project been approved and when will TC Energy start construction?
Several steps must take place before this project gets approved. FERC recently released a draft environmental impact report on the project and are finalizing public comments before they release a final report of their findings. After the public comment period ends on June 5, FERC will make an order on whether to greenlight or red light the project.
After an order is issued, citizens may request another rehearing within 30 days for public input. If no requests are made, FERC will continue with its decision.
If this project gets approved, TC Energy says they plan to finish construction within 2 years. They are hoping to start construction mid-2024 and finish by the end of 2025.
I have concerns and comments about this project. What can I do?
You may submit a written comment to FERC for their consideration before they officially come up with a decision to red light or green light the project. Comments must be submitted before June 5 and can be done in the following ways:
- Electronically on the FERC website using the eComment or eFiling features on www.ferc.gov or
- Sending your comments to one of the addresses below, depending on the mailing service:
- USPS: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 888 First St., NE, Room 1A. Washington, DC 20426
- Any other postal carrier: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 12225 Wilkins Ave., Rockville, MD 20852
Read all our coverage on the compressor station here:
An explainer on TC Energy’s plans:Petersburg and Prince George could see more pollutants coming from the natural gas compressor station
Citizens left in the dark:They live in a neighborhood with a natural gas compressor station. Here’s what they have to say.
Joyce Chu, an award-winning investigative journalist, is the Social Justice Watchdog Reporter for The Progress Index. Contact her with comments, concerns, or story-tips at [email protected] or on Twitter @joyce_speaks.