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Environmental groups not letting up on opposing big gas pipeline projects

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Environmental groups not letting up on opposing big gas pipeline projects

Three of the natural gas pipeline industry's biggest projects are fielding a steady onslaught of challenges from environmental groups, threatening construction schedules and budgets for the companies involved.

Environmental groups leveled a legal challenge against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over documents that let Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC proceed with a 2-Bcf/d natural gas transportation project despite what the groups described as serious threats to endangered species along the pipeline route in Virginia.

The groups filed the suit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., asking the court to force the federal agency to reevaluate the pipeline project's impact on the environment and vacate the authorization. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Research firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC said in an Aug. 13 note that the lawsuit could pose a risk to the Mountain Valley construction schedule.

Another environmental group, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, asked the Delaware River Basin Commission to claim jurisdiction over the PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC natural gas transportation project that would run between the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The group in an Aug. 13 letter called for the commission to provide a formal statement on how it plans to assert its authority over the 1.1-Bcf/d pipeline project.

Delaware Riverkeeper expressed concern over incidents in which the group said the commission "failed to fulfill its legal obligations to protect our water sources from irreparable harm in the past." These included unclear and contradictory communications about jurisdiction that allowed other pipeline projects to move into the construction phase without commission oversight.

In recent earnings calls, some of the project sponsors pushed back their spending plans on the pipe, indicating a likely delay in its start date. New Jersey Resources Corp., UGI Corp. and South Jersey Industries Inc., said the bulk of spending would occur in 2021, rather than 2020.

In a related issue, PennEast announced it would again apply for a state-issued water permit with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. On Aug. 13, lawmakers, environmental and citizen groups and residents urged the agency to hold PennEast to a strict environmental review and deny permits for the project.

Meanwhile, NC Climate Solutions Network and Friends of the Earth asked the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to rescind a Clean Water Act certification for the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC natural gas transportation project designed to move Appalachian production to mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets.

Among other things, the groups told the state agency that the developers failed to communicate the impacts from the Atlantic Coast project and other gas infrastructure projects in the region to water quality, climate and the quality of life in Robeson County, N.C. The groups said the Atlantic Coast project would threaten the safety and health of a vulnerable minority community, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which would be a violation of environmental justice rules established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the fair treatment of all communities.

Dominion does not expect the petition to affect the project schedule. It still expected to complete the project by late 2021.

However, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, found in 2018 that construction on the Dominion Energy Inc.-led pipeline likely violated safety standards, according to a July letter addressed to Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. PHMSA said July 25 that they discovered "unsafe construction practices at work" during a December 2018 inspection in Doddridge and Lewis counties of the 600-mile project.

PHMSA staff specifically pointed to the positioning of rocks and boulders that could be particularly dangerous during pipe testing or in the event of heavy rains. "At Broad Run Rd., 42-inch diameter pipe was noted to have been placed within an apparent 42-inch-wide, rock-laden ditch, leaving it susceptible to potential stresses and or damage incurred as a result of movement or settlement typically experienced during required hydrostatic testing," PHMSA wrote.

Dominion said Aug. 15 that the areas addressed in the PHMSA inspection were remediated.