Mountain Valley Pipeline goes into service, starts delivering gas in Virginia

This article was reprinted with permission from Virginia Mercury

Mountain Valley Pipeline, the 303-mile vessel that will deliver natural gas from the Appalachian region of West Virginia into Southwest Virginia, officially went into service Friday, after about a decade of steadfast opposition over concerns about environmental and community impacts in the areas in its path.

In a news release, the company said the project is now available to deliver natural gas with a capacity of up to 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Roanoke Gas said in a separate release Friday it had begun receiving the fossil fuel.

Diana Charletta, president and chief executive officer of Equitrans Midstream Corp, the pipeline’s developer, called the day an “important and long-awaited one,” for the country that will allow “greater access to an abundant supply of domestic natural gas for use as an affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy resource.”

The project was first announced in 2014 and planned to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions into Pittsylvania County, with an anticipated completion date in 2018.

But numerous legal challenges led the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn state permits, finding some agencies failed to adequately ensure protections against sediment erosion and harm to endangered fish species, such as the candy darter.

In May 2023, however, Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin included a measure in a federal stop-gap spending plan, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, that required all state and federal agencies to approve permits necessary for the project to be completed. The measure also prevented any legal challenges until it was completed.

With that greenlight, MVP resumed construction in August. The company requested final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday, stating that the project was “mechanically complete.”

On Tuesday, FERC granted the OK, after consultation with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration revealed the agency “had no objections if Commission staff were to authorize in-service for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.” MVP had entered into a consent agreement with PHMSA in October, because of conditions posing “an integrity risk to public safety, property or the environment.”

Terry L. Turpin, director of the FERC office that oversees the project stated that “Mountain Valley has adequately stabilized the areas disturbed by construction and that restoration and stabilization of the construction work are proceeding satisfactorily.”

The cost of the project, initially stated to be $3.5 billion in 2018, more than doubled to $7.85 billion, according to a news release earlier this year..

Scrutiny of the project, including the safety of coatings on the pipeline that laid out in the elements during years of delay and violations for preventing sediment erosion, increased in recent weeks as requests for the project to come online were submitted.

On Wednesday, when the pipeline’s activation was imminent, groups who have been advocating on behalf of indigenous people, other community members and the environment in West and Southwest Virginia raised their concerns and called for continued caution.

“I don’t know how else to express how angry, infuriated, grief stricken I am in this moment,” said Russell Chisholm, co-executive director of Protect our Water and Heritage Rights. The pipeline would have “repercussions …for everyone upstream in the fracking fields, and everyone downstream, where the gas is shipped and eventually burned, overheating our planet.”

Following a test failure on May 1, Appalachian Voices continuously submitted requests for information on inspection reports, in addition to  the March 29 quarterly report that was most recently released, but received no response, said Jessica Sims, the group’s Virginia field coordinator.

The lack of response from PHMSA and FERC has left community members in the dark with little legal recourse to take action, Sims added, while condemning Manchin’s intervention at the federal level.

“The level of congressional interference with the project was unprecedented and certainly concerning as a reality that could happen again,” Sims said. “We remain deeply disappointed that one pet project was put on an unrelated debt bill and used to pressure members of congress on a matter they should not have been weighing in on in that way. That lack of separation of judicial and legislative powers is deeply concerning,” said Sims.

PHMSA officials said in response to questions over its transparency, that information for the public can be found on PHMSA’s website in an electronic reading room.

A PHMSA official said the law requires the agency to “consult and redact” information that’s sensitive or confidential.

“This process can take time. Nonetheless, PHMSA and its community liaisons have provided numerous briefings to the public directly, congressional offices, and to interested reporters on the matter.“

MVP will be required to conduct different testing within a year of operation and the agency is awaiting results on what caused the May test failure, the official added.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, “will continue to monitor the progress of final grading, stabilization, and restoration, which includes vegetation establishment,” an agency spokesperson stated Friday.

This article was updated with the correct route of the pipeline and month Sen. Manchin included his provision in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

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