The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday gave the green light to resume construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, regulatory progress for a project five years in the making that drew the ire of environmental advocacy organizations.
FERC partially lifted a stop-work order for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a roughly 300-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 West Virginia.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC had requested that FERC rescind its October 2019 order directing Mountain Valley to cease construction following a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stay of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biological opinion for the project. Fish & Wildlife issued a revised biological opinion early last month stating that the project would not jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or adversely change critical habitat.
The FERC did not allow construction to resume in a 25-mile area encompassing two watersheds containing 3.5 miles of pipeline right-of-way that cross the Jefferson National Forest.
EQM Midstream Partners is slated to operate the pipeline. Its parent company, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Equitrans Midstream Corp., said in a statement that it is pleased with the FERC’s authorization but agreed to temporarily delay stream and waterbody activities, acknowledging a legal challenge currently before the 4th Circuit Court.
Mountain Valley Pipeline will continue to evaluate its current construction plans, budget and schedule as litigation progresses, according to a statement from Equitrans.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC is a joint venture between EQM Partners LP; NextEra Capital Holdings Inc.; Con Edison Transmission Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream LLC.
The company has projected that the pipeline will provide up to 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
Environmental groups blasted the FERC’s 2-1 decision. Joan Walker, senior campaign representative with Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels, said in a statement that allowing the pipeline construction to resume “just means putting more communities at risk for an unnecessary pipeline that may never even be built.”
“[The] FERC is supposed to regulate these fracked gas projects, not roll over for them,” Walker said.
Russell Chisholm, co-chairman of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, said the FERC “favors energy policy by force, rewards negligence over the objections of thousands, ignores the evidence of harm to our communities, and shamefully denies climate realities.”
Last month, water and climate advocacy organizations submitted comments and signatures from exactly 43,000 people demanding the FERC deny the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline more time to construct the pipeline.
Mountain Valley applied to the FERC to approve, construct and own the pipeline in October 2015.
Construction began on the pipeline in February 2018. Mountain Valley Pipeline, in June, said total project work was about 92% complete, but the FERC estimated in its order Friday that about 16% of the pipeline has not been installed. The Sierra Club, which has challenged the pipeline in court, has questioned whether Mountain Valley Pipeline has accurately reported how much of the project is complete.
In an August presentation to investors, Equitrans reported that total project costs could potentially increase 5% over the project’s $5.4 billion budget.