Washington — A divided Federal Energy Regulatory Commission again gave permission Dec. 17 to the Mountain Valley Pipeline to resume additional construction of the natural gas project, over objections from Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick, who argued outstanding permitting issues should first be resolved before FERC gives its nod.
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At issue was a request from MVP to limit a 25-mile zone around the Jefferson National Forest in which construction was still barred, reducing it to two smaller sections totaling about 7 miles. MVP has argued that potential sedimentation in the requested areas would not impact the forest. It noted that FERC has already found completing construction was best for the environment as it would allow for impacted lands to transition to permanent restoration.
During the Dec. 17 open meeting, Glick said the order, approved 2-1, would allow MVP to work close to the forest even though, in the aftermath of 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals rulings, the project lacks permission to cross the forest and also lacks permissions from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
"It makes no sense to allow pipeline developers to dig up land, potentially impact landowners and the community, until the private business has all its permits to move forward along the route," Glick said.
The 303-mile, 2 Bcf/d natural gas project, designed to ship Appalachian Shale gas to Mid-Atlantic markets, has faced multiple hurdles to completing remaining segments as result of adverse court rulings.
Bringing the project a step closer to regaining its forest crossing authorizations, the US Forest Service on Dec. 11 finalized a supplemental environmental impact statement.
Among outstanding permits affecting the project timeline are Army Corps water crossing authorizations, which have been stayed pending litigation, although MVP has sought to pursue alternative crossing methods, a step that could avoid Army Corps jurisdiction.
In response to FERC's action, MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said crews will resume activities on the 17-mile area affected by FERC's Dec. 17 order, within the constraints of winter weather and in compliance with environmental rules and guidelines. MVP anticipates the Forest Service and US Bureau of Land Management will issue it crossing authorizations in January, allowing MVP to move ahead with a plan to cross under the Appalachian Trail using the existing route, she said.
PAUSING ON WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR
On another contested project, at Commissioner Neil Chatterjee's request, FERC pulled from its open meeting agenda a request for rehearing of the in-service authorization of the Weymouth compressor station, associated with Enbridge's Atlantic Bridge Project.
"I believe this is an item that would benefit from considerations of all our commissioners, including our new colleagues, Commissioner [Allison] Clements and incoming Commissioner [Mark] Christie," Chatterjee said.
Opponents of the station had asked FERC to rethink its authorization for the 7,700 hp project to start service, citing two emergency shutdowns in September at the recently completed facility in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and a subsequent corrective action order from safety regulators.
The Atlantic Bridge project was designed to expand Algonquin Gas Transmission system capacity by 132,705 Dt/d from receipt points in New York and New Jersey along the mainline, which extends to the north of Boston. It also enables northbound capacity on Maritimes and Northeast US from its interconnect with Algonquin in Beverly, Massachusetts , into eastern Canada.
Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the preliminary direct cause for each incident has been identified and addressed, and Enbridge is maintaining the lower authorized pressure and will coordinate further operations with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The project will only be able to flow gas through the station once PHMSA has lifted remaining restrictions, he noted.
"We continue to cooperate with PHMSA and the independent third party to finalize the root cause analysis and will advance the process to fully place the compressor station into service in accordance with PHMSA's instructions and with public health and safety as our priority," he said in an email Dec. 17.
EARLY REMARKS FROM CLEMENTS
Clements did not vote during her first meeting at the commission after being sworn in, saying it was not realistic to review the matters over the prior several days in a manner that satisfies the reasoned judgment standard required by law.
In her opening remarks, however, Clements mentioned more generally that factors influencing FERC's decisions have become significantly more numerous and complex. She listed demands for a modernized electricity grid, a changing resource mix and emerging technologies and cyber threats - and also emphasized climate change as a consideration.
"These factors also include the grave threat of climate change and actions by all levels of government, corporations and individuals to address that threat, as well as the reality that people, communities and habitat are impacted by commission decisions," she said. "And those impacts are not borne equally."
She added that "embracing evolving realities" is a precursor to satisfying FERC's statutory obligations and would underlie her approach.
And she stressed a need to have FERC consider a full range of perspectives, including those that have "not always been afforded adequate representation before the commission."