Pipeline developers have made promises that must be kept

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The tug-of-war over construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has dropped in the direction that we believed it always would, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week giving the owners permission to begin construction in North Carolina.

We are told that by September, the job of installing pipeline will have begun in Robeson County, although staging areas are already evident for that work to begin. The owners of the pipeline — Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas — have said they will need plenty of help during the construction phase, when as many as 13,000 workers are expected to be employed, and they have pledged that at least a quarter of those will be hired from the local communities along the pipeline’s path.

Although the jobs are considered temporary, they possess long-range advantages beyond the earned income. The owners of the pipeline are promising to provide training that could provide skills that workers can use long after all the pipe has been buried. A range of workers are needed, from laborers, transporters, people who can operate heavy equipment, welders and many more. For information on the work available, visit https://atlanticcoastpipeline.com/workforce.aspx.

The pipeline owners expect the construction to be complete during 2019, and that is when the more permanent benefits will begin, including an estimated $900,000 a year that will be paid to Robeson County in property taxes, which we hope can be directly turned over to our public schools.

The major benefit of the 600-mile pipeline, which will be built at a cost of $5 billion, is that it will deliver cleaner and cheaper energy along the route, making eastern and southeastern North Carolina much better equipped to recruit new industry. Pipeline proponents say it offers a critical piece of infrastructure for rural North Carolina to begin trying to catch up with our wealthier neighbors westward across the state as industries covet natural gas.

The pipeline will give Robeson County another key piece in an economic development recruitment toolbox that is surprisingly full, and includes cheap land, the Lumber River, improving infrastructure, available workforce, good climate, proximity to the beach, Southeastern Health, a university and community college, major highway in all directions and an airport. We all know, however, that our crime problem as well as struggling public school systems are deterrents when industry looks in our direction.

Critics of the pipeline generally expressed two concerns, with one being that the need for natural gas has been exaggerated. We would disagree, and put forward as evidence the fact that the owners of the pipeline aren’t going to spend $5 billion to deliver natural gas for which there is no demand. Additionally, the hope is the natural gas will satisfy a growing demand, not an existing one, and that new industry will tap on along the route.

The next concern, however, is real — that the construction of the pipeline be achieved with minimal damage to the environment, and that when complete, the pipeline is safe. The owners of the pipeline like to say that no similar project has ever jumped through more regulatory hoops than has the ACP, and that it will be environmentally friendly and safe.

Those, in addition to delivering needed natural gas, are promises that must be kept as well.