Mountain Valley Pipeline Approved for Completion

TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2023


The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has reportedly approved completion plans for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will move methane gas from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

According to reports, approval came after the recent debt ceiling deal, which included terms to expedite the project, limit judicial review and order federal regulators to grant all permits within weeks. Additionally, developers have recently told federal regulators that they will not be remediating the pipeline offsite after concerns over the pipe's coating and corrosion last year.

Project Background

First approved in 2017, the project has been delayed by opposition, lawsuits and violations on construction sites over environmental regulations.

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.

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. 

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.

In December 2021, 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.

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.

Then in April 2022, 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 order was unanimously approved on April 8 by the FERC. According to the 72-page order. 

Project Extension

In August of last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 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. 

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.”

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.”

However, comments opposing Mountain Valley’s request reportedly argued that:

  • Mountain Valley has not demonstrated good cause for an extension;
  • The public interest findings underlying the Certificate Order are stale; and
  • Substantial new information on the environmental impacts of the project undermine the Certificate Order’s conclusion that the project is an environmentally acceptable action.

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.”

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.

Current Approval

Last month, Governor Jim Justice stated that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had issued the MVP’s final state-level permit.

“To the best of my ability, I’m not aware of anything else that is another step that people are waiting on,” he said to WV News. “If there be another step, we’ll be on it. I believe that construction has the possibility of starting real, real, real soon.”

Work on the project is now expected to resume shortly and will reportedly be completed by the joint venture composed of Equitrans Midstream, NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison, AltaGas and RGC Resources. According to Equitrans, the project is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Natalie Cox, Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs for project developers at Equitrans, said in an email to WV News, “We expect the first of several forward-construction crews to begin work on the right of way shortly, and Mountain Valley continues to target project completion by year-end 2023.”

According to reports, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, passed by Congress earlier in the month, mandated that the Secretary of the Army issue all federal permits or verifications that were required for the stalled pipeline to resume construction.

Addtionally, a full carbon offset plan is expected to make MVP's emissions “carbon-neutral” for the first 10 years of service. With full implementation, reports suggest that MVP could become the nation's first large-scale interstate natural gas transmission lines to achieve carbon neutrality for operational emissions.

Developers have also reportedly told federal regulators that they will not be remediating the pipeline coatings offsite after concerns of corrosion were brought up last year. According to reports, pipeline safety proponents asked the FERC to require any deteriorated coating be remediated indoors in a plant in order to ensure higher quality reapplication and protect waterways. 

MVP reportedly said in a June FERC filing that many of the pipe segments had been bent and welded. Reports indicate that each segment would have had to have been disconnected, loaded on a truck, transported on public roads and temporary access roads and rewelded onsite.

MVP added that disconnecting the pipe would involve removing the coating in the field and called the potential impacts of this "negative, duplicative, and unnecessary," as well as prolonging the project. MVP stated that it plans to "employ standard processes" to evaluate the pipe coating and remediate as needed. All field remediation will reportedly occur outside stream and wetland buffer areas. 

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Government; Health & Safety; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Ongoing projects; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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