MVP Reaches Agreement with US Regulator
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has announced that it has reached a consent agreement with Equitrans Midstream of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for inspections meant to validate the pipeline’s integrity.
Additionally, a recent report from Reuters states that the PHMSA had previously released a Notice of Proposed Safety Order, outlining its issues with the developers’ construction, testing and reporting methods.
First approved in 2017, the Mountain Valley Pipeline 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 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.
At the beginning of 2020, FERC released an environmental impact statement concluding that while a 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 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.
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 MVP 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.
Construction Stoppage, Restart
Last year, in September, with pipes intended for the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline stored above ground for years, concerns were raised by residents and experts regarding the coatings, corrosion and the safety of the pipes.
In July this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court ordered construction to halt again on the MVP project, as it reviewed recent challenges to the project posed by environmental groups. The order to stop construction came only shortly after approval for project completion was granted on June 28.
Then, in August, the U.S. Supreme Court rbegan paving the way for construction to resume on the MVP project, granting a request to lift lower court orders that had recently halted the project and delayed its completion.
The pipeline had reportedly filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court, seeking to resume the project and arguing that the 4th Circuit did not have the ability to grant relief since it “lacked jurisdiction” over the environmental groups’ permitting challenges.
The MVP partners also reportedly stated that the provision of the debt ceiling package rendered the case moot, since Congress ratified the relevant agency actions in the legal battles. MVP warned that leaving the 4th Circuit’s pause in place would delay its completion before spring 2024 and lead to increased demand for gas in regions served by the pipeline.
According to the report, the Biden Administration, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and the GOP-led House sided with MVP in the dispute and urged the Supreme Court to lift the lower court orders.
Equitrans has stated that it agrees with PHMSA that outlining the steps taken by the MVP project team to complete construction could help strengthen the public’s confidence in the safe operation of the pipeline.
Another report from the Pipeline Technology Journal found that the PHMSA had previously said that comprehensive assessments were needed “to identify and remediate any coating deficiencies, potential corrosion issues, and any potential land movement-related effects on previously installed pipe.”
The PHMSA added that its inspectors were focusing on corrosion control and coating remediation for pipeline segments that had been exposed to the elements and ultraviolet radiation in recent years.
Additionally, pipeline critics have reportedly stated that exposures like that have exceeded safe limits, making segments of the pipeline unfit for use.
The firm stated that it does not expect the consent agreement to have a material impact on the total cost of the project or its schedule.
“The terms of this Consent Agreement are directly aligned with Equitrans’ core values, which include continually striving to go above and beyond regulatory compliance requirements,” said Diana Charletta, Equitrans’ President and Chief Operating Officer, in a news release.
“Importantly, the Agreement outlines actions that are designed to reassure the public of MVP’s integrity and demonstrates our commitment to safe, responsible construction and in-service operations. Safety has been, and will remain, MVP’s top priority, and we are committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable regulations to ensure the safety of our communities, employees, contractors, and assets.”
Major safety highlights of the consent agreement reportedly include:
Additionally, the agreement is expected to improve MVP’s current coating, remediation and inspection processes by:
However, others are still wary of the pipeline’s future affect on the environment.
In a recent release from environmental group Appalachian Voices, Virginia Field Coordinator Jessica Sims stated that the “unprecedented consent agreement for Mountain Valley Pipeline mandates important new steps for testing whether pipe is corroded, but it largely leaves the public in the dark as to what corrective measures are required to keep the public safe when pipe coating is found to be compromised.
“We remain concerned about the degraded pipe that developers rushed to bury before today’s agreement, and we are disappointed that the requests from those directly impacted by this destructive, unnecessary project were not addressed,” she continued. “Impacted residents asked for more community engagement, determination of a new impact radius and evacuation zone, and increased protection from geohazards.”
The advocacy group stated that the agreement does not disclose the evaluation, report and procedures needed under Corrective Measure 17(A)(i)-(iii), which were previously approved by the PHMSA. Measures for the agreement were reportedly determined by KTA.
Equitrans states that it plans to continue to work with the PHMSA and other regulators to keep its standards of safety and environmental stewardship as the project enters its final construction phase. PHMSA has reportedly spent over 229 days in the field conducting inspections on the MVP, since 2017, working to ensure the pipe is built and installed in accordance with safety standards, including proper coating.