U.S. regulators are allowing EQT Midstream Partners LP's Mountain Valley pipeline project to stabilize various sites along the route while full construction on the natural gas project is shut down, with the operator saying it believes the issues that led to the work stoppage can be resolved in time to keep to its startup target.
The 2-Bcf/d pipeline is among several projects that would link Appalachian Basin supplies with the mid-Atlantic region. Together with Williams Cos. Inc.'s Atlantic Sunrise expansion, TransCanada Corp.'s WB XPress and Dominion Energy Inc.'s Atlantic Coast pipeline, the projects continue a trend of pushing more Northeast gas downstream to markets where demand growth is expected over the next five years.
The projects have faced strong opposition from conservation groups, especially Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast, which also is under a work stoppage along its full route ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In a decision late Aug. 10, FERC said Mountain Valley can perform limited construction activities during its shutdown to protect the environment.
"We are pleased that the FERC appreciates MVP's desire to uphold our environmental responsibilities by allowing the project to stabilize the right of way and to take certain measures to minimize unnecessary erosion and sedimentation occurrences as we work with the agencies to resolve the issues related to the August 3, 2018, stop work order," spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an email.
Cox said the operator remains confident the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will be able to satisfy a federal appeals court's requirements regarding their respective decisions related to running the pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest.
Cox said Mountain Valley maintains its expected in-service date in the first quarter of 2019. That date was pushed back in July from a previous startup target of the fourth quarter of 2018. The delay came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's decision to halt work on the full route of the 301-mile pipeline. The operator has not ruled out the possibility of further delays to its schedule.
Mountain Valley, designed to transport gas to markets in Virginia and North Carolina, is a joint venture of operator EQT Midstream, WGL Midstream Inc., RGC Midstream LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc. and an affiliate of NextEra Energy Inc. Shippers include WGL Midstream, Roanoke Gas Co. and EQT Energy LLC, the marketing unit for gas producer EQT Corp. An offshoot, MVP Southgate, has also been proposed. It would extend about 70 miles south from the mainline to new delivery points in North Carolina and serve customers of utility Public Service Co. of North Carolina Inc. with Appalachian Basin natural gas.
Meanwhile, Mountain Valley continues to face pushback from opponents over the project itself and the operator's temporary stabilization plan. Among other things, FERC is allowing Mountain Valley during the construction stoppage to backfill open trenches and seed and mulch some temporary workspace areas.
The opponents say some elements of the stabilization plan amount to construction work that would otherwise be prohibited under the stoppage order. "The law is clear that construction must not occur unless and until a route across the Jefferson National Forest has been approved," Sierra Club and other environmental groups said in a filing with FERC that was posted to the docket on Aug. 13.
Harry Weber is a reporter for S&P Global Platts, which like S&P Global Market Intelligence is owned by S&P Global Inc.