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Mountain Valley Pipeline can stabilize certain areas along route during construction halt

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Operator sticks to current startup schedule

Opponents keep up pressure on gas project

Houston — US regulators are allowing EQT Midstream Partners' Mountain Valley Pipeline to stabilize various sites along the route while full construction on the natural gas project is shut down, with the operator saying Monday it believes the issues that led to the work stoppage can be resolved in time to keep to its current startup target.

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The 2 Bcf/d pipeline is among several projects that would link Appalachian Basin supplies with the mid-Atlantic region. Together with Williams' Atlantic Sunrise expansion, TransCanada's WB XPress and Dominion Energy'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 MVP and ACP, which also is currently under a work stoppage along its full route ordered by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In a decision late Friday, FERC said MVP can engage in 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 responding to questions.

Cox said the operator remains confident the US Forest Service and the 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 MVP was maintaining its expected in-service date of the first quarter of 2019. That date was pushed last month from a previous startup target of the fourth quarter of this year. The delay came before the recent 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.

MARKET NEED

MVP -- designed to transport gas to markets in Virginia and North Carolina -- is a joint venture of operator EQT Midstream, WGL Midstream, RGC Midstream, Con Edison Transmission and an affiliate of NextEra. Shippers include WGL Midstream, Roanoke Gas and EQT Energy, the marketing unit for gas producer EQT.

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 service customers of utility PSNC Energy with Appalachian Basin natural gas.

Meanwhile, MVP continues to face pushback from opponents, over the project itself and the operator's temporary stabilization plan. Among other things, FERC is allowing MVP 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 aroute 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 Monday.

The groups will be seeking emergency relief in both the DC and 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the stabilization plan, which they contend evades the court decision under the "false pretense" of stabilizing the right-of-way, Sierra Club said in a statement Monday.

--Harry Weber and John McManus, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Joe Fisher, newsdesk@spglobal.com