Controversial pipeline receives key federal clearance

On Thursday, June 18, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC’s request to extend its controversial gas pipeline into North Carolina. FERC is the federal body responsible for evaluating and permitting interstate fracked gas pipelines. By issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, FERC has given its green light to MVP’s plan to extend its 300-mile pipeline another 75 miles through central North Carolina, including segments of Alamance County. There has been considerable opposition to the project in Alamance County from the outset, including numerous landowners in the projected path of the pipeline facing legal action by Mountain Valley Pipeline for resisting efforts to survey and inspect their properties. MVP still needs to secure several other state and federal permits before it can begin construction.

On Thursday, June 18, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC’s request to extend its controversial gas pipeline into North Carolina. 

FERC is the federal body responsible for evaluating and permitting interstate fracked gas pipelines. By issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, FERC has given its green light to MVP’s plan to extend its 300-mile pipeline another 75 miles through central North Carolina, including segments of Alamance County. 

There has been considerable opposition to the project in Alamance County from the outset, including numerous landowners in the projected path of the pipeline facing legal action by Mountain Valley Pipeline for resisting efforts to survey and inspect their properties. MVP still needs to secure several other state and federal permits before it can begin construction.

As proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project is a natural gas pipeline system that spans approximately 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia – and as an interstate pipeline will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The MVP will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (Mountain Valley), which is a joint venture between EQM Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.  EQM Midstream Partners will operate the pipeline and own a significant interest in the joint venture.

With a vast supply of natural gas from Marcellus and Utica shale production, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is expected to provide up to two million dekatherms per day (two billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day) of firm transmission capacity to markets in the Mid- and South Atlantic regions of the United States. The MVP will extend from the Equitrans transmission system in Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company’s (Transco) Zone 5 compressor station 165 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. As stated in the formal application, Mountain Valley Pipeline has secured firm commitments for the full capacity of the MVP project under 20-year contracts. 

On June 11, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (Mountain Valley) provided a schedule and timing update in preparation for completion of its 303-mile natural gas transmission line. Total project work is approximately 92 percent complete and full in-service is now expected in early 2021. 

“First and foremost, we are confident in the ultimate completion of this important infrastructure project,” said Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer, EQM Midstream Partners, LP, operator of MVP. 

“We appreciate the oversight of the various state and federal agencies that have helped guide our construction activities, and despite the unprecedented regulatory and development challenges, we have completed 92 percent of total project work. While the additional legal and regulatory reviews have caused schedule delays and cost adjustments, we look forward to MVP’s safe, successful start-up and to serving the growing demand for domestic natural gas in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States.” 

For the last several months, Mountain Valley’s primary focus, according to a MVP press release, has been continued environmental stabilization and restoration work, and maintenance of existing erosion and sediment controls along the right-of-way. Forward construction is anticipated to resume when MVP receives its Biological Opinion and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lifts the project’s Stop Work Order. 

MVP's 2021 in-service date reflects changes to the previously planned construction schedule, which includes the continued timing uncertainty of permits for crossing the Jefferson National Forest and Appalachian Trail, roughly 3.7 miles; and waterbodies, which total approximately 10 miles of pipe. 

In connection with the adjusted in-service date, total project costs for MVP may potentially increase roughly 5 percent above the project’s $5.4 billion estimate, primarily due to the need to adapt to complex judicial decisions and regulatory changes – creating carrying costs and requiring supplemental crews to safely maintain the entire 303-mile route during the halt of construction and through the upcoming winter months.

Opponents of the proposed pipeline, locally in Alamance County as well as on the state and national level, continue to drum up support for the notion that the MVP project is an unnecessary intrusion on local property that will affect water quality. 

“The previously planned Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and has already caused water pollution and property damage in its path,” read a statement from the Sierra Club expressing disappointment in FERC’s decision. “In Virginia alone, MVP committed over 300 environmental violations, mostly related to improper erosion control and stormwater management, drawing a lawsuit from state regulators there. MVP is also under a stop work order from FERC.” 

According to the Sierra Club, from October 2008 to February 2020, FERC issued 480 certificates of public convenience and necessity authorizing construction, authorization, or abandonment of fracked gas projects, while denying just one new pipeline application.

"There was never any need for the 303 miles of the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline, and there’s certainly no need for 75 miles more,” said Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Senior Campaign Representative Joan Walker. “The people in its path don’t want it on their land, the communities surrounding it don’t want it polluting their water, and no one wants it polluting the air and exacerbating the climate crisis. The only entities that want this billion-dollar boondoggle are the polluting corporations that profit off it while passing the costs - and the risks - on to people.”

“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline has committed hundreds of violations of commonsense water protections in other states, and if they start construction in North Carolina, they are going to pollute the water here, too,” added Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton. “It’s simple - people have a right to clean, safe water, and this fracked gas project threatens that right and has no benefits to the public. We encourage our communities to continue their opposition at the state level, and expect our state agencies and Governor (Roy) Cooper to prioritize the health and safety of our communities and our environment ahead of a dying fossil fuel industry.”