UPDATE: Oct. 13, 2020: In a 2-to-1 decision filed on Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to give Mountain Valley Pipeline developers another two years to complete the project. In a separate order filed that same day, FERC lifted a stop-work order on all of the project except for a 25-mile segment that includes the Jefferson National Forest. The project lacks approval to pass through the national forest, although two permits that were set aside by legal challenges have since been reissued.
The project was originally intended to go into service early in 2021 and regulators wrote in the Friday order that completing the project would be "in the best interest" of the landowners involved and the environment.
- Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) permits are slowly being reissued, bringing new confidence to the project and its developers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinstated verifications for stream crossings in three West Virginia districts on Friday, allowing construction to resume in one of the districts.
- While MVP is waiting to regain other federal permits, opponents of the development seek to undo the latest progress. Sierra Club and six other environmental groups filed suit on Monday with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals over two of the Army Corps' Nationwide Permit 12 verifications for MVP.
- MVP developers claim the main section of the pipeline will be in service in early 2021. "Over the last several months we have been explaining to clients that we expected MVP was likely to complete construction based on the fact regulatory re-approvals were coming together," Christi Tezak, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners, said in an email.
Gas pipelines are meeting a barrage of challenges from community stakeholders and environmental groups. Although developers pulled the plug on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) this summer, the same fate doesn't necessarily await MVP, power sector analysts say.
ACP was more sensitive to state regulatory approval, while MVP is "supported by upstream producers," Tezak said.
MVP is a joint venture of EQM Midstream Partners, NextEra Capital Holdings, Con Edison Transmission and gas transmission groups including WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream. The pipeline is intended to deliver up to 2 million dekatherms per day of firm transmission capacity from the Marcellus and Utica shale region to markets in the Mid- and South Atlantic.
The developers did not reply to requests for comment on the path forward for the project or comparisons to other pipeline proposals.
MVP developers maintain that the mainline project construction is 92% complete, a figure that opposing groups have questioned as an exaggeration. According to ClearView's Tezak, the MVP project continued construction for nearly a year longer than the ACP, before beginning to lose permits.
"It looks like the pipeline's only about halfway complete to restoration," said Joan Walker, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign. Sierra Club contests the mileage of completed pipeline construction based on monitoring done by their partners and people on the ground, who are tracking the construction.
"The sections that are yet to be trenched and laid are the steepest, most difficult, most challenging terrain, so it's literally an uphill battle for developers," she said.
That means if the project received all the necessary permits to restart construction and meet its early 2021 target, the work would have to take place during the winter, which could further complicate matters for developers, according to Walker.
With the Army Corps development, MVP has regained two of the three federal permits that had been previously vacated through legal challenges. The U.S. Forest Service is expected to issue a key permit by the end of the year regarding MVP's path through the Jefferson National Forest.
The Forest Service issued a draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement last week that would allow the project to continue, once finalized.
MVP developers, aware of the challenges of winter construction, asked FERC to lift its 2018 stop-work order, so that construction efforts will be maximized ahead of winter.
While MVP is closing in on its regulatory re-approvals for the sections of the pipeline that cross federal land, Sierra Club and others remain skeptical of the project.
MVP developers "have an interest in trying to project that this is a done deal, but it's not," Elly Benson, senior attorney for Sierra Club, said.
On Friday, Appalachian Mountain Advocates requested the appellate section of the Department of Justice for an administrative stay of the Army Corps of Engineers' MVP certifications on behalf of clients including Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, prior to the lawsuits environmental advocates filed with the Fourth Circuit.
"It’s unclear to us that the Sierra Club’s grounds for appeal will succeed, as it appears to be based solely on allegations that the Corps didn’t do an analysis of the open trench crossing no longer planned for the Gauley River," and are different from their previous challenge of the Nationwide Permit 12 approvals, Tezak said.
There's been over 300 environmental protection violations so far on the construction of MVP, Sierra Club's Walker said, but some stakeholders are confident the latest challenges will not stop the project's momentum.
"Opponents can seek stays pending judicial review of the new permits, but those are not easy to get," Tezak said. "If they don’t get stays, we would expect the project could go into service as planned."
MVP developers are also seeking a "Southgate expansion" that would carry gas to North Carolina. The region has a persistent need for gas, according to Duke Energy, now that the ACP is abandoned.
NextEra Energy, parent company of one of MVP's joint owners, has been seeking to expand in the South with different assets beyond gas infrastructure.
NextEra has actively sought to acquire other utility assets in recent years, competing against Duke for the South Carolina state-owned utility Santee Cooper, and recently making a takeover offer to Duke, for what The Wall Street Journal reports was a rebuffed attempt to combine the utilities in a $60 billion-plus deal. In a much smaller, but successful deal, NextEra's transmission subsidiary on Tuesday announced it is acquiring GridLiance, a transmission company, for approximately $660 million, including debt.