Mountain Valley Pipeline Clears FERC Review
Earlier this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released an environmental impact statement concluding that while an 75-mile-long extension into North Carolina—also known as the MVP Southgate Project—could cause some environmental damage, the FERC is favorable of the project moving forward.
The Commission notes that the potential environmental damages could be reduced to less-than-significant levels through avoidance, minimization and mitigation proposed by the developer and staff.
Mountain Valley Pipeline History
The pipeline is owned and being constructed by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC—a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. Once complete, the pipeline is slated to be operated by EQT Midstream Partners.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is expected to run from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, cutting through the Jefferson National Forest. Being 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, 2018, 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.
A few months later, in October, the project was blocked yet again, but this time by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, suspending a permit that would allow the pipeline to cross more than 500 streams and wetlands in southwest Virginia. The following month, MVP filed an application with FERC for a 73-mile Southgate permit pipeline extension.
In mid-July 2019, FERC released a request for “toxicological, environmental and health information” from the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s corporate attorney regarding the coatings used on the project’s 42-inch diameter steel pipe. In August, project developers told federal regulators that the coating in question, specifically on stretches in Virginia and West Virginia, does not pose a threat of harm. Also in August, the developers voluntarily suspended construction on stretches of the pipeline in light of a recent lawsuit that sought to address concerns about the project’s impact on local endangered species.
By October, work on the project ceased once again as the pipeline developer was ordered to pay $2.15 million to resolve a lawsuit brought on by Virginia regulators. In the lawsuit, the accusing party cited repeated violations of environmental standards. The agreement also required that the company submit court-ordered compliance to curb erosion and sedimentation.
A lawsuit dating to last December cited the project developer for the violation of stormwater control measures more than 300 times. The flaws have been corrected and the company has agreed to certain conditions including independent inspections, but those carrying out the investigations must be monitors approved by the DEQ.
In light of the loss of so many permits, Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, called for the stop-work order from FERC. Mountain Valley’s assistant general counsel, Matthew Eggerding, noted in a letter to FERC that pipeline installation had been completed in nearly all accessible areas, though this does not include the areas at issue. Otherwise, the company was still on schedule to complete stabilization and restoration work.
What’s Happening Now
According to MVP Southgate spokesperson Shawn Day, the $468 million project is expected to break ground sometime this year with completion slated for 2021.
“We look forward to safely and responsibly providing the reliable access to natural gas needed for home and business use across the region,” said Day.
The project’s approval to move forward doesn’t come without objection. During open houses and public hearings on the extension, residents of the area spoke up about widespread runoffs, in addition to other erosion and sedimentation issues.
However, FERC states in its environment impact statement the issues experienced are not expected to reoccur in the expansion project, claiming that “2018 was an unusual year yielding record breaking precipitation amounts and given the flatter terrain where the Southgate Project would be constructed, we do not anticipate [it] would experience the same issues with erosion and sediment control.”
Additionally, the EIS highlights that roughly half of the MVP Southgate will be built along existing rights-of-way and will only measure either 24 or 16 inches in diameter, smaller than the 42-inch diameter Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Project officials also add that since the expansion was announced, the MVP team has made more than 1,200 adjustments to its route, mostly based on landowner requests, engineering considerations and efforts to avoid sensitive resources.
The MVP team reports that it remains committed to collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, including landowners, federal and state agencies, local governments, tribes, community groups and non-governmental organizations.