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MVP workaround proposal faces pressure from green groups at FERC

Highlights

Proposal entails boring under waterbodies, wetlands

Groups seek full EIS, contend data, surveys are needed

Washington — Mountain Valley Pipeline's efforts to advance the 2 Bcf/d natural gas project by using alternative water crossing methods for 77 miles have run into opposition from environmentalists, who are urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct a more extensive environmental study before signing off on the change.

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The 303-mile project, linking Appalachian Shale gas to Mid-Atlantic markets, has faced legal setbacks during construction, including a recent appeals court stay affecting US Army Corps of Engineers' verifications for water crossings along the route.

Following that court action, MVP on Nov. 18 proposed to amend its FERC certificate authorization on an expedited basis, by Dec. 31, 2020, to allow the project to bore under wetlands and waterbodies, allowing for construction to advance that would enable MVP to deliver gas volumes from Milepost 0 to the WB Interconnect.

Multiple environmental groups in recent weeks have opposed the expedited change (CP21-12). The timing of FERC's decision on whether to approve the amendment could be important to the outcome because of the change in FERC leadership expected to follow the change in presidential administration Jan. 20.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, in comments filed Dec. 31, argued the record at FERC is short on data needed to analyze potentially significant environmental impacts, including the possibility of bore failures in the karst terrain. It called on FERC to issue an environmental impact statement for the project, saying an EIS is needed because the proposal "inherently presents significant impacts."

"The current record is deficient because — at a minimum — Mountain Valley failed to conduct geotechnical surveys, groundwater surveys and subsurface soil composition studies necessary to assess whether conventional bores are appropriate, the potential impacts on groundwater, and which (if any) of the 69 waterbodies would require 'longer bores,' thereby triggering the use of drilling fluids," the group wrote. It also argued FERC must evaluate an alternative where MVP does not cross the waterbodies and wetlands at issue.

Project progress

MVP has argued that expedited approval would benefit the environment because it would maximize final restoration of the affected area during the spring growing season, allowing for more rapid revegetation and right-of-way stabilization.

"With total project work approximately 92% complete, amending the certificate to allow Mountain Valley to use 41 conventional bores to cross 69 waterbodies and wetlands, which the commission originally authorized for crossing using an open-cut method, will enable Mountain Valley to complete construction of this segment," said MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox, in a statement. She added that there is no additional footprint and there are no additional landowners affected by the amendment.

"Pending approval, construction would commence within the constraints of winter weather conditions and in compliance with all environmental regulations and guidelines," she added.

The amendment might also allow the project to continue work without triggering Army Corps jurisdiction and thus being blocked by the appeals court stay.

Faced with a variety of court delays, Equitrans Midstream-led project recently pushed its target date for the start of full operations to the second half of 2021. In one recent advance, however, FERC allowed MVP to resume construction in an area around the Jefferson National Forest previously carved out as a buffer zone.

Multiple green groups comment

Aside from NRDC, groups that have urged FERC to put the brakes on the certificate amendment include Appalachian Voices, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Preserve Giles, Friends of the Central Shenandoah, Preserve Monroe, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights, Union Hill Environmental Justice Research Group and Virginia Pipeline Resisters.

Appalachian Voices wrote FERC Dec. 21 to say the amendment request appeared to be an attempt to circumvent restrictions resulting from the loss of water crossing permits. It asked FERC to deny the amendment, or else undertake a full supplemental EIS and thoroughly assess the impacts.

"Waterways in steep terrain and with karst geology are not suitable locations for boring, and longer crossings bring additional risk," the group wrote.

FERC, in a Dec. 16 letter to the pipeline developer, requested additional information about impacts to waterbodies or wetlands, including the potential for streambed subsidence or impacts from dewatering activities, among other questions.

MVP in one response said the potential for streambed subsidence is low "because the drill pipe is installed as the bore is advanced, and the line pipe is installed immediately behind the bore pipe once the boring is completed, leaving no unsupported hole that could result in subsidence."