With the Virginia Water Control Board's water quality certification for the EQT Corp.-led Mountain Valley pipeline and hearings scheduled for the Dominion Energy Inc.-led Atlantic Coast pipeline, the natural gas transportation projects draw close to construction authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Although both projects were granted draft certification from Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality, the agency's Water Control Board decides whether to give final approval of Clean Water Act Section 401 permits. The Dec. 7 decision on Mountain Valley, a 5-2 vote by the seven-member board, is expected to be mirrored in a decision a week later for Atlantic Coast.
Once significant permits, like the Section 401 certification, have been granted, FERC can authorize project developers to begin building their pipelines. The federal commission approved both projects in Oct. 13 certificate orders.
The $3.7 billion Mountain Valley project, which will run about 300 miles through West Virginia and Virginia, still requires at least one other state authorization, the approval of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality for a stormwater management program, according to the project's Dec. 6 weekly status report.
Mountain Valley, a joint project of EQT Midstream, NextEra Energy Inc. affiliates, RGC Resources Inc., WGL Holdings Inc. and Consolidated Edison Inc., would deliver 2 Bcf/d from the Appalachian production zone to mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets. The project is expected to complete pre-construction activities before April 2018 and to be in service by the end of 2018. (FERC docket CP16-10)
In the water quality certification, the Virginia board included an amendment that splits certification of upland activities and stream crossings and allows the board to reenter the review process for additional certifications in the future.
Anne Havemann, attorney for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a Dec. 7 interview that the Virginia board decided on the certificate before it received additional environmental impact information on the project, including a permit for its stormwater management program. "Throughout the course of the day, the board members kept raising alarms about the fact that they were being asked to put the cart before the horse," she said.
Havemann said she expects litigation against the project to be filed soon.
The Virginia board's approval of Mountain Valley pipeline portends "a favorable decision" for the Atlantic Coast pipeline, the subject of board hearings on Dec. 11 and 12, Rob Rains of Washington Analysis said in a Dec. 6 analyst note. If the Virginia Water Control Board rejects the $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline draft water quality certificate application, then it would be remanded for further analysis, which could take between two to three months to resubmit the application to the board and ultimately result in a six-month delay.
According to Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby, the significant permits that Atlantic Coast still needs before it can ask FERC to begin land disturbing activities are a federal water quality certification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state-issued Section 401 water quality certificates from Virginia and North Carolina. The North Carolina permit is expected by the end of the year. Ruby also said the developers expect to begin tree-felling activities in early 2018 and mainline construction by April 2018. West Virginia waived the Section 401 individual certification for the project on Dec. 6.
The 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline is a joint project between Dominion, Southern Gas Co., Duke Energy Corp. and Piedmont Natural Gas Co. Inc. The line would deliver about 1.5 MMDth/d of gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. (FERC docket CP15-554)
Opponents of both the Mountain Valley pipeline and Atlantic Coast pipeline projects claim the water quality permits will, regardless of any environmental mitigation measures, allow the projects to cause permanent harm to the environment.
"This decision paves the way for the literal obliteration of mountain ridgetops, the clear-cutting of forests and for massive trenching and tunneling across valleys for a pipeline that is not even needed," Chesapeake Climate Action Network Executive Director Mike Tidwell said in a statement.