Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered a halt on the building of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) after construction approvals were overturned.
The pipeline would carry natural gas through West Virginia and Virginia, including through areas as close as Monroe County. The Notification of Stop Work Order was passed after a panel of judges in an appeals court reviewed permits that allowed the pipeline to cross a section of the Jefferson National Forest (JNF). The decision effectively reversed approvals that were previously granted for an approximately three-mile long section of pipeline construction in the forest.
After the construction hold was placed on the section, FERC determined that the remaining areas of the pipeline be put on hold, as well. A letter from Terry Turpin, director of the Office of Energy Projects with FERC states, “The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an order vacating decisions made by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) authorizing the construction of the MVP project across federal lands… MVP has not obtained the rights-of-way and temporary use permits from the federal government needed for the project to cross federally owned lands.”
This means that the project must have new right-of-ways issued, or alternative routes must be designated. This pushes the completion date of the already-delayed project back even further. It is unknown if, or when, MVP will re-file for new right-of-way permits through the section of federal forest.
This delay will also be a financial blow to the project, which is already exceeding the estimated budget. The initial cost estimate for the project was $3-3.5 billion, but due to multiple delays and setbacks, the budget has already expanded to $3.5-3.7 billion. If the project is not granted approval to pass through the forest, an alternative route would be under discussion, raising costs even more and disturbing surrounding landowners.
The FERC letter continues, “Should the agencies authorize alternate routes, MVP may need to revise substantial portions for the project route across non-federal lands, possibly requiring further authorizations and environmental review. Accordingly, allowing continued construction poses the risk of expending substantial resources and substantially disturbing the environment by constructing facilities that ultimately might have to be relocated or abandoned.”
MVP released the following statement following the stop work order: “We agree with the FERC that the USFS and BLM will be able to satisfy the Fourth Circuit Court’s requirements regarding their respective decisions; and we believe that the two agencies will work quickly to supplement their initial records. In addition, we are confident that the BLM has reached the correct conclusion during their initial analysis of alternatives in the JNF and agree that MVP’s current route has the least overall impact to the environment. MVP had previously halted operations in the JNF, with exception of work needed to manage any unnecessary environmental erosion and maintain slope stability. We will continue to closely coordinate with all agencies to resolve these challenges as they work to have the right-of-way grants reissued.”
The statement ends with, “While disappointed with this recent setback, MVP is confident in the BLM’s alternatives analysis, as well as with the approvals received by state and federal agencies; and we look forward to continuing the safe construction of this important infrastructure project.”