Piedmont details LNG plans
PEMBROKE — With the opening of Piedmont’s liquefied natural gas facility in the summer of 2021, the flow of natural gas into and through Robeson County will increase exponentially.
Piedmont Natural Gas Company, a Charlotte-based subsidiary of Duke Energy that serves 1 million customers here and in three states, has a $250 million LNG facility under construction on N.C. 71 between Maxton and Red Springs. The investment will generate nearly $1 million in county taxes a year.
Brad Patterson, director of Liquefied Natural Gas for Piedmont, spoke to about 125 people on Wednesday during a public meeting at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Center for Regional Initiatives. COMtech Business Park and the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce served as the meeting’s hosts. Patterson’s presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session.
Patterson said the plant’s purpose is twofold: Ensure gas supplies during winter peak periods in a growing Southeastern North Carolina, and to purchase natural gas at lower summer rates, liquefy and store it for use during winter.
“Piedmont has 45 years of experience with liquefied natural gas storage facilities,” Patterson said. “This is a very safe operation with no incidents.”
Piedmont operates three similar facilities in Charlotte and Goldsboro and Nashville. The one-billion-gallon storage tank to be built in western Robeson County will sere 80,000 to 100,000 customers, both industrial and residential.
The facility will occupy 65 acres of a 685-acre tract that Piedmont owns. The company has replanted forests on the surrounding acreage.
“We will use two existing major transmission pipelines to supply the plant,” Patterson said. “This is an optimal location to serve our customers.”
Safety and environment protection are critical to the project, Patterson said. Representatives of Matrix Service Inc., the turnkey engineering and construction firm building the facility, talked safety and job opportunities during the meeting.
“Safety is our top core value at Matrix,” said Karen McDonald, corporate Safety and Human Resources director. “So far, we have worked 150,000 man hours on the project without an incident.”
Matrix is committed to hiring locally, and nearly half its workers live within 50 miles of the work site, she said. The company will employ up to 125 workers during peak construction periods in the summer and fall.
When in operation, Piedmont will employ 10 to 12 people, who will be on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The jobs will be skilled.
The company already has established its presence in the county by awarding grants to nearby Oxendine Elementary School, college scholarships at five county high schools, job training scholarships at Robeson Community College and grants to local volunteer fire departments.
County industry recruiter Channing Jones said industries rely on a reliable supply of natural gas, and the county needs to expand its tax base.
“I expect Piedmont will be a good partner and a safe operator,” Jones said. “Natural gas is critical to serve the power needs of industry and residents now and in the future.”
Other speakers were less gracious. Among them were Mac Legerton, a member of the Robeson County Coalition to protect Sacred Lands and Water, and Jeff Currie, Riverkeeper of the Lumber River.
“You’ve cleared all the trees, and the logging destroyed archaeological evidence of native inhabitation,” Currie said.
Patterson said the mandated archaeological studies were complete in advance of tree cutting and no evidence of archaeological sites were found.
“Your air quality permit to the North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality was withdrawn, so there were no opportunities for the public to give input,” Legerton said.
Patterson said a redesign of the facility eliminated the need for an air quality permit, because emissions are below state requirements.
Belton Oxendine, a farmer in the target area, had a bone to pick about the easement process for power and gas lines.
“I can’t farm under Duke’s lines,” Oxendine said. “They run all over my property, not just on their easements, and they stripped trees and stopped up my drainage ditch, which I had to fix.”
Piedmont will construct pipelines to serve the new plant with 70-foot easements, Patterson said. They will go 30 to 40 feet under wetlands.
Mary Ann Oxendine, who lives near Piedmont’s facility at Prospect Road and N.C. 710, said the last time the alarm went off at the booster station, it took an hour to turn it off and 45 minutes for Piedmont to respond.
Patterson said the alarm has been upgraded. The LPG facility will have personnel on site 24 hours a day and response will be instant.
To a question about shipping LNG by rail, Patterson said that is out of the question, although some will be shipped by truck.
Nationally, natural gas has become the fossil fuel of choice for powering the U.S. electrical grid. A plentiful supply and its cleaner-than-coal reputation have increased demand and kept prices low.
Natural gas is reduced to a liquefied state at minus 260 degrees. As a liquid, it occupies 1/600th the volume as the gaseous form.
Big national power and energy companies have scrambled to export LNG and are building more capacity and ports. However, Piedmont’s project in Robeson County is about regional distribution and cost-savings.