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Environmentalists push FERC on MVP environmental review plans, carbon impacts

Highlights

Seek supplemental EIS to examine project amendment

Attack carbon offset plan, assert MVP would undermine Biden goals

A large coalition of environmental groups pressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to pursue a more extensive review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline's amendment project, days before the commission was scheduled to release its environmental report for the natural gas pipeline.

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If granted, the lengthy filing backed by 19 groups including Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance could add to the timeline for environmental review of the 303-mile, 2 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project. MVP has been seeking to restore permits and resume construction after legal and regulatory setbacks stalled progress (CP16-10, CP21-57).

MVP, which would provide an added outlet for Appalachian gas supplies, in February proposed alternative water crossing methods for about 70 miles of the route. FERC had scheduled release of the environmental assessment for the amendment project for Aug. 13.

MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox, in an Aug. 6 email, said, "The MVP project team continues to expect its [environmental assessment] from the FERC in mid-August."

The environmental groups, however, argued Aug. 3 that FERC erred legally in issuing a scoping notice July 1 that said it had decided on an EA.

The supplemental EIS must analyze impacts of the amendment, along with MVP's requested Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, they argued.

"FERC's environmental review must examine, on a crossing-by-crossing basis, alternative stream crossing methodologies — including the broader use of trenchless methods," and must fully consider cumulative effects of hundreds of stream crossings including those in the same stream or watershed, they wrote.

Climate impacts

The groups also targeted climate impacts, saying FERC must revisit its analysis given new executive orders and the Army Corps' involvement as a cooperating agency. FERC cannot rely on the "deficient and outdated discussion in its 2017 FEIS," they contended.

Amid a variety of pressures on natural gas companies over methane emissions, MVP in mid-July shared with FERC its announcement of plans to acquire carbon offsets for 90% of greenhouse gas emissions associated with operating the project over a 10-year period, mostly relying on a methane abatement project planned in Virginia. It plans to purchase more than $150 million of carbon offsets during its first 10 years of operations through a unit of Next Era Energy Resources and sourced through a coal mine methane abatement project in southwest Virginia scheduled to reach full production in 2023. It also is pursuing added GHG abatement projects in West Virginia, including one to address abandoned and orphaned gas wells.

The environmental groups told FERC that the announced offset plan falls far short of mitigating the pipeline's climate impacts. Among shortcomings they claimed were that CO2 would still be released from the coal mine abatement project, that offsets only cover the first 10 years of operational emissions, that offsets may not fully cover operational methane emissions as these tend to be underestimated, and that the plan does not mitigate GHG emissions from end-use combustion.

"The MVP would generate end-use greenhouse gas emissions for its expected lifespan of fifty years, in conflict with the national goals and energy trajectory espoused in President Biden's recent executive orders," the groups asserted, likening the project to Keystone XL and dubbing it "exactly the kind of gas pipeline that most seriously jeopardizes" climate goals.

Separately, they said FERC must seek water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act from West Virginia and Virginia, and must also take a look at all wetlands impacts.

According to their reasoning, if FERC does not agree to issue an EIS it must allow for public comment on a draft EA before it is finalized.

Lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Southern Environmental Law Center and Natural Resources Defense Council signed the 147-page comment.