Click Here to Play Audio

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved the expansion of a natural gas pipeline that stretches through southwest Hampton Roads.

Canada-based TC Energy can now start constructing what it calls the Virginia Reliability Project. 

The company plans to dig up, replace and double the size of about 50 miles of existing pipeline. It stretches from Chesapeake and Suffolk, through Isle of Wight to Sussex and Surry counties. 

TC Energy, which supplies Virginia Natural Gas, says the project is meant to accommodate growing regional energy demands.

“Hampton Roads desperately is at capacity for natural gas,” spokesperson Alex Stroman told WHRO last year. “Things like offshore wind need natural gas. And natural gas and renewables work hand-in-glove.”

The existing pipeline infrastructure was built in the 1950s and is outdated, he said.

In a statement following the recent approval, TC Energy said it “will work diligently to place (the pipeline) into service as soon as possible.”

“The Virginia Reliability Project will make energy more reliable and contribute to affordable energy prices for residents and businesses in the Hampton Roads region,” company officials wrote.

Many Hampton Roads officials and businesses have supported the project in comments to federal regulators. 

A Huffington Post investigation last year revealed emails in which the company appeared to have drafted letters of support for local mayors to send to FERC, including Chesapeake’s Rick West and Bobby Dyer in Virginia Beach.

Local environmental groups and civic leagues have strongly opposed the expansion, calling it the “Virginia Ripoff Project.” They argued that the region should not double down on investing in fossil fuel infrastructure and cited environmental justice concerns about lower-income communities that line the proposed route. 

The Nansemond Indian Nation also expressed concerns that the project could impact its ancestral homelands around the Nansemond River and Great Dismal Swamp – but the tribe withdrew its objections this fall after reaching an agreement with TC Energy. 

In their environmental review of the project, federal regulators said they expected only some short-term environmental impacts. 

They did not evaluate its effects on climate change and said it could not characterize the VRP’s greenhouse gas emissions as significant or not.

One of FERC’s commissioners partially dissented on the project’s approval this month, citing the inability to assess those emissions.