Mountain Valley Pipeline Deadline Extended
In a unanimous decision, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved a new deadline for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to be completed more than four years after construction was started. The new deadline for completion for the natural gas pipeline is Oct. 13, 2026.
First approved in 2017, the project has been delayed by opposition, lawsuits and violations on construction sites over environmental regulations.
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. The project is the smaller of two 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 of that year, 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.
Regulators have given the developer of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline a four-year construction extension after a series of legal defeats threatened the project’s completion and spurred permitting reform efforts in Washington @ClarkMindock https://t.co/Dd1AjgVd6K pic.twitter.com/RWaTfwheuD— Reuters Legal (@ReutersLegal) August 25, 2022
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 cited the project developer for the violation of stormwater control measures more than 300 times. Those flaws have reportedly 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.
At the beginning of 2020, FERC 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, they were favorable of the project moving forward.
The Commission also noted that the potential environmental damages could be reduced to less-than-significant levels through avoidance, minimization and mitigation proposed by the developer and staff.
At the time of the announcement, MVP Southgate spokesperson Shawn Day reported that the $468 million project was expected to break ground sometime this year with completion slated for 2021.
Project officials also added that since the expansion was announced, the MVP team had made more than 1,200 adjustments to its route, mostly based on landowner requests, engineering considerations and efforts to avoid sensitive resources. The team says 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.
In September 2020, on behalf of Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, representing attorney Matthew Eggerding filed a letter with FERC in requesting that a stop-work order be lifted.
In the letter, Eggerding requested that FERC grant permission to resume all construction activities permitted by law of the over $5 billion pipeline by Sept. 25. The letter followed a reissued permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this month, stating that construction would not likely jeopardize protected species in the area.
However, according to The Roanoke Times, the joint venture still needed two key permits that were set aside after a federal appeals court sided with conservation groups. Following Eggerding’s request, the Sierra Club also issued a letter to FERC, writing that construction couldn’t commence until all federal authorizations were obtained. The letter—which included a notice of intent to sue the Army Corps—was written by senior attorney Elly Benson and was co-signed by other environmental groups.
In December last year, two water permits were approved for the pipeline, raising concerns over its impacts on the environment and sparking lawsuits including a Virginia State Water Control Board permit for the pipeline to cross about 150 streams and wetlands in Southwest Virginia and a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection water quality permit.
Prior to having the Nationwide Permit 12 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invalidated, more than half of the almost 1,000 stream and wetland crossings in the two states were completed. MVP sought an individual permit from the Army Corps, which could only be provided after state approval.
At the time, the MVP had 236 remaining stream crossings. The stream and river crossings approved by the board will be temporarily dammed and a trench will be dug for the buried 42-inch pipeline along the bottom, referred to as the open-cut method.
Following the approval, opposition groups, including the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing that the pipeline should not be permitted to continue based on past violations. Mountain Valley officials responded saying the problems were largely caused by heavy rain in 2018 and have been corrected.
A few days later, the WVDEP approved the water quality permit for the pipeline. This permit was the final one needed before the Army Corps could move forward with dredge-and-fill permits in the states.
A similar lawsuit to the Virginia petition was filed at the beginning of the month over the West Virginia permit. The environmental and community groups argued that WVDEP violated the Clean Water Act by granting the permit.
Earlier this year, in April, the FERC issued an order approving changes proposed for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project, including how the pipeline will cross 183 waterbodies and wetlands. The application was filed by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC in February last year to amend the original 2017 certificate for the pipeline. The order allows the developer to bore under the bodies of water instead of using the originally approved open-cut method.
The current open-cut process, which involved digging a trench along the bottom of the waterbodies to by a 42-inch diameter pipe, will now be replaced with a tunneling method for the approved bodies of water.
The order was unanimously approved on April 8 by the FERC. According to the 72-page order, the amended application includes the following changes:
However, FERC said the decision does not change the commission’s prior findings on the need for the pipeline. The order notes that “any notice to proceed with construction” on the amended project “will only be issued upon Mountain Valley’s receipt of its outstanding federal authorizations.”
Multiple federal permits had reportedly been denied in previous months, and earlier in April FERC was pressed by judges about the agency’s decision in 2020 to give the developers two years to finish the project. A judge said it was “troubling” that FERC had not responded to a pending stop work order requested by environmental groups earlier this year.
The approved 18-page order, issued Aug. 23, was in response to Mountain Valley’s extension request submitted in June as the previous Oct. 13, 2022, deadline approached. The commission explained that its decision in 2017 had been upheld on appeal and that additional comments about need “are improper collateral attacks on that order and need not be considered further.”
“We consider it likely that, should Mountain Valley receive the required permits, those permits will undergo judicial review, which will take time to resolve,” FERC said. “It is therefore reasonable that Mountain Valley requests a four-year extension.”
FERC reported they received many comments both in opposition and support of the extension request. Specifically, the commission noted that multiple individuals whose land the project crosses filed comments expressing support for an extension and to complete restoration of their properties as “expeditiously as possible.”
“Comments in support of the extension of time generally assert that the project would develop needed natural gas supplies, create jobs, be consistent with Mountain Valley’s obligations to repair and maintain the right-of-way, and result in other economic benefits to local and regional communities,” stated the document.
However, comments opposing Mountain Valley’s request reportedly argued that:
Despite these environmental concerns, FERC later noted that “there has been no showing that the environmental effects of the project have changed materially since the Commission authorized the project.”
“As outlined in the order … FERC commissioners agreed that a four year extension is reasonable given judicial review of new permits and that Mountain Valley has continued to actively pursue project construction,” MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email. “Further, MVP’s public interest findings and environmental analysis remain valid.”
While four years was needed to provide certainty to stakeholders, MVP explained, it hopes to have the pipeline completed by late next year. Progress is dependent on receiving three sets of federal permits that have reportedly been struck down repeatedly.
These permits include:
Currently, the project is about 94% complete.