Key MVP Approval Updated
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has issued an updated review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) that could pave the way for the 2 million Dth/d natural gas conduit to receive further permits and complete construction this year.
However, even with the updated USFWS Biological Opinion, posted to the project’s FERC docket Wednesday, MVP remains vulnerable to further delays amid ongoing legal challenges to other permits, according to analysts.
The latest Biological Opinion, developed after an earlier approval in February 2022 was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, is a “critical milestone” for MVP to meet federal Endangered Species Act requirements, analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC said in a recent research note.
The USFWS review also serves as a “key input” in the process of completing other pending federal permits, the analysts said.
For one, MVP is awaiting revised approval for a 3.5-mile crossing of the Jefferson National Forest along the Virginia/West Virginia border. The pipeline is also awaiting a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The permit depends on the revised Biological Opinion from the USFWS, the ClearView analysts said.
In a recent call with investors, MVP sponsor Equitrans Midstream Corp. outlined plans to have the 303-mile Appalachia-to-Southeast natural gas project in service by the end of this year.
CEO Thomas Karam said “based on the permitting timeline announced by other agencies, we expect to receive all of the required permits and approvals over the next few months. This timing will allow for mobilization of construction crews in the summer of 2023, which will position us to bring MVP into service in 2023.”
Those plans could, once again, depend on what happens in the Fourth Circuit. The court has ruled against MVP on numerous occasions since 2017, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the project’s certificate.
“At the risk of sounding like a broken record,” pending decisions from the Fourth Circuit “remain critical to MVP’s goal of bringing the project in service by year end,” ClearView analysts said. “We did not think that oral argument in the appeal of West Virginia’s state water quality certification…went particularly well for MVP.”
Whether the Fourth Circuit opts to vacate the West Virginia permit, issued under CWA Section 401, is the “real obstacle” in MVP’s path toward completing construction, according to ClearView.
An adverse decision in that case could lead to a delay or suspension of the Army Corps water permit and “would also result in FERC, under its current policy, withholding authorization to resume construction anywhere on the project until that permit is reinstated,” the analysts said.