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FERC backs water crossing changes for Mountain Valley Pipeline

Highlights

FERC expects change would lower impact to aquatic resources

Group asserts changes would skirt review, alter certificate conditions

Houston — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday approved Mountain Valley Pipeline's request to change crossing methods for nine waterbodies over a conservation group's objections alleging the project is seeking to change conditions of its certificate while circumventing standard review processes.

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FERC's quick sanctioning of the proposed changes as environmentally beneficial comes amid legal battles with environmental groups over Endangered Species Act protections and US Army Corps authorizations for water crossings for the project.

The 300-mile, 2 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project would transport Appalachia Basin-produced gas from West Virginia to Virginia and to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Commission staff in a letter order Tuesday said the proposed changes would lower impact to aquatic resources and backed the shift from the dry open-cut method of crossing for crossing nine waterbodies and one wetland to the conventional bore method, as MVP requested August 23.

CORPS JURISDICTION

Moreover, FERC said the resources in question are outside areas where MVP voluntarily suspended construction to avoid affecting the candy darter and Roanoke logperch, following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups over species protections. FERC also said the US Army Corps of Engineers confirmed no permits were needed to allow the altered crossings under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and that the waterbodies and wetland do not come under jurisdiction of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.

In urging FERC to deny MVP's request Monday, before FERC granted approval Tuesday, the Indian Creek Watershed Association noted that MVP's request was not accessible to the public until Monday morning. It contended that through a host of variance requests, MVP has sought to change crossing methods for more than 40 streams "while circumventing standard agency review and approval processes, as well as public review and comment."

"There is no evidence that any regulatory body has seen, commented on, or approved the revised crossing plans for any of these proposed changes," the conservation group said. Further, it contended the approach circumvents a 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals order in October 2018 vacating MVP's 404 permit to cross streams and wetlands.

MVP VIEW

MVP disputed the group's characterization of its approach to the variances.

"As we continue to evaluate and adjust MVP's construction schedule and respond to environmental protection concerns, the project team has requested variances to utilize the boring method for specific crossings," said MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox. "This will allow MVP to maximize environmental protections and implement stabilization and restoration efforts along the project's right-of-way to the greatest extent possible. This is an iterative process, in which MVP will seek all required regulatory approvals from relevant state and federal agencies and will follow the permitted procedures to complete these bore crossings."

OUTSTANDING PERMITS

The project is more than 85% built, according to the developer, but has faced legal obstacles to completing work on several fronts.

Following an adverse 4th Circuit ruling on water crossings last year, the Corps is reviewing changes West Virginia proposed to conditions for a general permit. The Environmental Protection Agency has already found those changes to be consistent with the Clean Water Act, although more litigation is likely.

Separately, environmentalists filed suit in the 4th Circuit in early August over Fish and Wildlife Service authorizations for the project related to endangered species protections.

MVP is a joint venture of EQM Midstream Partners, NextEra Energy, Consolidated Edison, AltaGas, and RGC Resources.

-- Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com