The long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline needs water crossing permit approval if it is to ever be completed.
The time is now to weigh in on whether the project should get it.
Public comments are due Friday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s proposal to discharge dredged and/or fill material into wetlands and other waters, while West Virginia environmental regulators are taking comments ahead of a virtual public hearing set for June 22 on whether they should approve a water permit for the project.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the joint venture that owns the pipeline, still has applications pending with West Virginia and Virginia state environmental regulators for about 300 water crossings while it seeks approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to tunnel under 120 additional waterbodies.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection last month asked for an additional 90 days beyond the 120 days the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the agency to review Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s water permit request. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in March requested an additional year to review the pipeline permit application.
Both departments said Monday that they haven’t heard back from the Corps. The Corps could not be reached for comment.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is designed to be a 303-mile natural gas pipeline system traveling from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia crossing Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in the Mountain State. It is projected to provide up to 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to markets in the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the U.S.
Pipeline developers have proposed a 125-foot-wide temporary right-of-way to construct the pipeline and a 50-feet-wide permanent right-of-way to maintain and operate the pipeline once in service. Mountain Valley anticipates that the project will have temporary impacts to more than 21,000 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands in West Virginia during the construction phase.
Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Equitrans Midstream, the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based project lead developer, noted during the company’s first-quarter earnings call earlier this month that its targeted summer 2022 in-service date for the project is based on receiving all water crossing approvals and the lifting of a remaining exclusion zone around Jefferson National Forest by the end of 2021.
The projected in-service date had been the end of 2021 prior to Charletta’s announcement, which environmentalists hailed as another setback for a project that they have helped stall through legal challenges, including one that prompted Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to abandon a blanket water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and seek individual water permits.
The pipeline has sought and got water permit approval from West Virginia before.
The Department of Environmental Protection imposed a special condition as part of its 2017 certification of water permit approval for the pipeline stipulating that individual state water quality certification is required for pipelines equal to or greater than 36 inches in diameter or pipelines that cross a river regulated by the federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is greater than 36 inches in diameter and is designed to run through three such rivers: the Elk, the Gauley and the Greenbrier.
In 2019, the department revised the special condition to require individual water quality certifications for pipelines greater than 36 inches in diameter or crossing a river regulated by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 only if the department secretary believes the requirement should be in place.
The department later purported to waive its requirement that the pipeline obtain an individual water quality certification, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the department had to engage in proper notice and comment procedures before it could waive the requirement and threw out verification of the water permit by the Huntington District of the Corps for that reason.
In 2019, the DEP revised the special condition to require individual water quality certifications for pipelines greater than 36 inches in diameter or crossing a river regulated by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 only if the DEP secretary believes the requirement should be in place.
Last year, the department stated it would not require an individual water quality certification for the pipeline and requested the Corps incorporate the modification into its water permitting for West Virginia.
But following Mountain Valley’s abandonment of its Corps-issued blanket water permit, the Corps’s current provision of an individual permit process for the department has the pipeline back under state regulator scrutiny.
“The WVDEP will consider whether the components of the activity, resulting in a discharge to waters and contemplated by the federal USACE permit and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] license, will comply with the state’s water quality requirements and what conditions may be necessary to ensure that compliance,” acting department spokesman Terry Fletcher said in an email.
Comments should be submitted electronically for the Corps to Adam Fannin by email at CELRP-MVP@usace.army.mil.
All comments and information for state environmental regulator consideration should be mailed to WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management 401 Certification Program, 601 57th Street SE, Charleston, WV 25304 or emailed to WQScomments@wv.gov.