With political winds changing direction and the oil and gas sector awaiting the entrance of the Biden administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request last week to revisit construction on a tract of land around Jefferson National Forest. With progress being the apparent driving force, the FERC is now giving thought to an additional MVP ask in West Virginia, where it seeks to complete construction at the northern end of the project.
Construction stops and goes
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service previously granted permission for the pipeline to span approximately 3.5 miles through the Jefferson National Forest in the states of Virginia and West Virginia. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, blocked those mandates in 2018. Additionally, the FERC issued a cease action on construction within an exclusion zone of 25 miles located between two watersheds. Protecting the forest’s waterbodies served as the group’s primary motivation.
Considering a Forest Service environmental impact study earlier in the month, the FERP decided in a 2:1 vote that construction occurring in a 17 mile stretch of land would not produce sediment intrusion into the forest or its waterways. The study was based on plans for the pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Craig counties of Virginia.
According to Natalie Cox of Equistrans Midstream Corp, MVP developer, construction crews will comply with all environmental guidelines and regulations. Winter and its inclement weather conditions of the area will also play a part in the resuming of work.
Calling the commission’s decision “a serious mistake,” FERC Commissioner Richard Glick indicated that federal courts have continuously refuted several MVP federal permits necessary to complete construction. In current and past rulings, Glick felt the group failed to seriously consider environmental conditions that require the pipeline to procure federal permits prior to constructing the pipeline itself.
“The Commission’s…contention that the condition is relevant only when a pipeline first commences construction, makes the condition look like an excuse for justifying the Commission’s practice of granting conditional certificates and not a serious attempt to protect the environment or the public interest,” wrote Glick.
A December 9 hearing on civil rights and civil liberties brought serious criticism by a U.S. House subcommittee regarding FERC oversight of pipeline projects. Chairman Jamie Raskin, D-Md., noted findings indicating that the FERC has approved 99% of applications submitted for natural-gas projects over the past 20 years. Furthermore, the past 12 years revealed an approval of 89 to 92 requests to extend construction project deadlines for those behind schedule.
“A system where corporations win nearly 100% of the time and people win 0% of the time is inherently suspect and reeks of injustice,” said Raskin.
Moving forward on shaky ground
MVP has admitted that “continuing uncertainty regarding the options that will ultimately be available…to complete the waterbody and wetland crossings” due to the 4th Circuit Court’s decision.
Citing an apparent attempt to sidestep restrictions looming from the loss of water crossing permits, the Appalachian Voices filed an opposing comment of almost 1,000 signatures.
“Without proper analysis, the public cannot know the severity of impacts to soil, steep slopes, streams and wetlands that dozens of conventional borings would bring,” reads the comment submitted on behalf of 977 signatories by the Virginia Field Coordinator for the Appalachian Voices, Jessica Sims.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]