Court, Army Corps Block Mountain Valley Pipeline
The Mountain Valley Pipeline, to run from Virginia to West Virginia, is once again facing a series of challenges: Following a similar ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals early last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently suspended a permit that would allow the pipeline to cross more than 500 streams and wetlands in southwest Virginia.
A similar permit for water crossing in West Virginia was vacated early last week by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Due to this initial ruling, the Corps pulled the permit to await further clarity regarding the issue, noted William Walker, chief of the regulatory branch of the Corps’ Norfolk division, in a letter to Mountain Valley officials.
Mountain Valley Pipeline
If built, the Mountain Valley pipeline would run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, cutting through Jefferson National Forest. The pipeline would be owned and built by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, which is a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. EQT Midstream Partners is to operate the pipeline.
Using gas from Marcellus and Utica shale production, the pipeline will deliver 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Currently, the design indicates the pipeline will be “42 inches in diameter and will require approximately 50 feet of permanent easement (with 125 feet of temporary easement during construction),” according to the project website.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is the smaller of two such projects currently underway in the state of Virginia; the other is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is twice as long and passes through the center of the state, but does not cut through Jefferson National Forest.
On July 27, an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit turned over prior decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service authorizing construction of the 303-mile pipeline. In early August, the U.S. Federal Regulatory Commission ordered work on the pipeline to cease, alleging that two U.S. agencies had not fully examined the projects.
According to The Roanoke Times, Mountain Valley had recently begun digging trenches along the bottoms of streambeds to prepare for the project. Stream-crossing work is now paused due to the suspension of the permits, but a company official expressed optimism that new permits would be issued so that the work could be completed on schedule. Currently, the pipeline is slated for completion during the fourth quarter of 2019.
The stream-crossing permit process involves two divisions of the Army Corps: one that represents Virginia and one for the southern part of West Virginia. The permit suspension occurred in response to a request from lawyers representing Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a joint venture between the Sierra Club and other conservation groups.
Since work on the pipeline began in the spring, environmental regulators in both states have issued roughly a dozen notices of violation, reporting issues with erosion and sediment control.
With Mountain Valley lacking the permission to complete stream-crossing work, the West Virginia segment of the pipeline also came under scrutiny. In this, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups noted that the Army Corps permit bypassed a requirement that work on four major river crossings be completed within 72 hours in order to limit impact on the environment. Mountain Valley said that work under the rivers could take a month to a month-and-a-half. Previously, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that both state and federal regulators had not followed legal standards.
Now it’s up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency overseeing the project, to determine whether work can continue.