The Mountain Valley Pipeline keeps getting costlier while the project’s completion date keeps drifting further into the future.
Pipeline lead developer Equitrans Midstream Corp. announced Tuesday that it’s now targeting a full in-service date during the second half of 2023 at a cost of roughly $6.6 billion.
First announced in 2014, the 303-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipeline originally was scheduled for completion by the end of 2018 at a cost of $3.5 billion.
Equitrans, the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based natural gas gatherer that plans to operate the pipeline, had most recently estimated that the project would cost $6.2 billion and targeted a summer 2022 in-service date that has long appeared highly unlikely, given significant legal hurdles the project must clear.
In January, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated federal approval for the pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest. The following month, the court struck down a conclusion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that constructing the pipeline is unlikely to jeopardize endangered species. That move prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to commit to withholding a key water discharging permit until there is a valid conclusion on the project’s effects on potentially threatened species.
Equitrans, which anticipates owning a 48% interest in the pipeline, said Tuesday it already has invested $2.6 billion in the project and expects to fund a total of $3.4 billion.
Equitrans CEO Thomas Karam indicated on a first-quarter earnings conference call Tuesday that developers plan to pursue new permits, passing up options to appeal the 4th Circuit Court decisions or cancel the project.
Karam touted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval last month of Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s request to change crossing methods at 120 locations. That approval allows the joint venture that owns the pipeline to tunnel under waterbodies, as opposed to an open-cut method, as initially authorized, pending other federal permit approval.
Environmental groups have cheered the project’s legal setbacks stemming from their own court challenges in recent months.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline has brought nearly a decade of anguish and harm to Appalachian communities — and the company’s pursuit of twice-vacated permits doesn’t change the fact that MVP is a flawed project that should be canceled,” Jessica Sims, Virginia field coordinator for environmental group Appalachian Voices, said in a statement.
The 4th Circuit previously stayed a 2017 Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion green-lighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, leading to another opinion issued by the agency in Sept. 2020 and thrown out by the court again in February. The court observed in its ruling that elevated sedimentation is a grave threat to the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter.
Appalachian Voices was one of 11 plaintiffs challenging the biological opinion that also included the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Indian Creek Watershed Association, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Proponents of the pipeline have said it would provide key takeaway capacity — the ability to get a product out of the area via pipelines, trucks or rails — for the region, in addition to tax revenue for the state.
The pipeline is slated 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 country. It would cross Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in West Virginia.
Karam said Equitrans has been in “frequent contact” with Mountain Valley Pipeline supporters Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and others to discuss possible paths to bring the pipeline into service.
But the pipeline’s legal limbo lingers, with opponents highlighting environmental concerns with the project.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection released a consent order last year requiring Mountain Valley to pay a $303,000 fine for violating permits by failing to control erosion and sediment-laden water, mostly for violations documented in 2019. That penalty followed a $266,000 fine from the state in 2019 for similar erosion and water contamination issues.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fined Mountain Valley $2.15 million in 2019, resolving a lawsuit the department and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring had filed alleging the company violated a previously issued water quality certification by not controlling sediment and stormwater runoff.
Equitrans has said the project is 94% complete, but pipeline opponents have contested that estimate. They have pointed to recent estimates reported by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC that final restoration is little more than halfway done.
In a statement Tuesday, Roberta Bondurant, co-chairwoman of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, called on Mountain Valley to “admit its final defeat immediately.”
“No one is surprised that the Mountain Valley Pipeline has been delayed and is over budget yet again,” Bondurant said. “The MVP is a dying project that is sucking the life out of the environment and our communities to postpone its final demise.”