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Key water permit approved

Pictured is an area along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near U.S. 19 in Braxton County damaged by flooding in early June. Opponents of the pipeline say it exacerbates flooding in the area. Virginia environmental regulators approved a key water permit for the pipeline project Tuesday.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has received approval for a key water permit, giving renewed momentum to the 303-mile project slated to transport natural gas across 11 counties in West Virginia before crossing into Virginia.

The Virginia State Water Control Board voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve a water protection individual permit under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for the project.

The permit authorizes roughly 410,000 square feet of surface water effects in Virginia, where the project will consist of 107 miles of pipeline totaling 42 inches in diameter and 51 miles of access roads.

The board determined that there is a “reasonable assurance” the permit, if complied with, will not violate applicable water quality standards or cause a significant impairment of state waters or fish and wildlife resources, angering opponents of the project who point to the project’s history of past environmental violations as reasons for skepticism.

The board issued the permit to Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based joint venture that owns the pipeline, after Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff found discharges from the proposed activity would comply with applicable water quality requirements.

Composed of governor-appointed citizens, the Virginia State Water Control Board issued its decision 11 days after another citizen-comprised regulatory board, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board, denied an air quality permit key to a planned extension of the pipeline into North Carolina.

The board released a statement saying the proposed permit to build the Lambert Compressor Station in Pittsylvania County did not meet fair treatment requirements of state environmental justice law.

Natalie Cox, spokeswoman for the pipeline’s Canonsburg-based primary interest owner, Equitrans Midstream Corp., praised the State Water Control Board’s decision in an emailed statement.

“We appreciate the diligence of DEQ staff in performing a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of the data,” Cox said. “We are proud to design and develop this critical infrastructure project in a way that protects natural resources and meets public demand for reliable, affordable and lower-carbon energy.”

Cox reported that total project work is nearly 94% complete.

The now-$6.2 billion project originally was scheduled for completion by the end of 2018, at a cost of just $3.5 billion. The project’s targeted summer 2022 in-service date is based on receiving all water-crossing approvals and the lifting of a remaining exclusion zone around the Jefferson National Forest by the end of 2021.

The project is still awaiting the same water quality certification from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for water crossings in the Mountain State.

Pending before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is an application from Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC for a permit that would allow for discharging dredged and fill material into some waterbodies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has defined fill material to include rock, soil, clay, construction debris and materials used to create any structure in waters of the United States, a broad term that includes all interstate waters or waters that could be used by interstate travelers.

The project’s proposed trenchless crossing method also needs final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is slated to run from Northern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, crossing Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in the Mountain State.

It would transport 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 U.S.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality fined Mountain Valley $2.15 million in 2019, resolving a lawsuit the department and state Attorney General Mark Herring had filed alleging the company violated a previously issued water quality certification by not controlling sediment and stormwater runoff.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection released a consent order earlier this year requiring Mountain Valley to pay a $303,000 fine for violating permits by failing to control erosion and sediment-laden water.

That penalty followed a $266,000 fine from the state in 2019 for similar erosion and water contamination issues.

Lynn Godfrey, community outreach coordinator for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement the permit “signif[ies] the continued disregard of water sources essential to maintain a healthy ecosystem” in Southwest Virginia.

“We will not stand by as regulators continue to give a free pass to corporate polluters and will pursue all legal avenues to ensure that this pipeline is never completed,” Godfrey said.

“[T]he Mountain Valley Pipeline still has a long and uncertain road ahead,” Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, said in a statement. “We remain convinced that this pipeline cannot be built in compliance with the law, and we will continue to stand with impacted communities as they fight this unnecessary and dangerous project.”

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc

.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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