Equitrans Midstream Corp. has received a 4-year extension from the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to place its 303-mile Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline (MVP) into service. Its previous deadline was Oct. 13, 2022, the extension moving it to Oct. 13, 2026. The extension also applies to MVP’s Greene Interconnect project, a new metering and regulating station with small sections of pipeline in Monroe County, WV.
MVP is 94% complete, according to Equitrans, but has been delayed by multiple legal challenges and regulatory issues. The pipeline would carry 2 bcfd of natural gas from production in northern West Virginia through Virginia to an interconnect near the North Carolina border.
A deal among Democrats reached earlier this month to support reform of federal energy infrastructure permitting as a follow-up to the $739-million budget bill included an explicit push to complete the Mountain Valley pipeline (OGJ Online, Aug. 2, 2022). The new bill, however, would require 60 votes to pass in the US Senate if submitted on its own, raising the possibility that it will instead be appended to government-funding legislation that needs to pass by Sept. 30.
FERC initially authorized Mountain Valley on Oct. 13, 2017, requiring it be available for service within 3 years. MVP itself planned a fourth-quarter 2018 completion at a cost of $3.7 billion, which has since grown to $6.6 billion. On Oct. 9, 2020, FERC granted Mountain Valley’s request for a 2-year extension to complete the mainline project, finding that MVP had demonstrated good cause for an extension as it faced “ongoing litigation and permitting delays outside of its control.”
The most recent extension was requested in June 2022, with commenters arguing in the meantime that Mountain Valley had failed to demonstrate good cause for another move of the project’s deadline. Among the arguments made by environmental organization Appalachian Voices, was that Mountain Valley’s “litigation delays were not the result of unforeseeable circumstances because Mountain Valley inappropriately sought to take advantage of streamlined permitting processes and provided federal agencies with unrealistic analyses of the project’s environmental impacts” and should have anticipated the courts’ vacatur of those approvals. The Natural Resources Defense Council, meanwhile, argued that Mountain Valley’s request for 4 additional years was “unprecedented” and that its inability to obtain the necessary permits “requires [FERC] to realize that the project is not viable.”
FERC refuted each of these arguments on precedent, also saying that the fact that MVP’s attempt to use the US Army Corps of Engineers’ streamlined permitting process failed was not evidence of bad faith. The Commission went on to note that since the last grant of an extension Mountain Valley had “actively pursued project construction and engaged in whatever construction and restoration activities” it was allowed to pursue. FERC concluded that “should Mountain Valley receive [its] required permits, those permits will undergo judicial review, which will take time to resolve,” making the 4-year extension reasonable.