Mountain Valley Pipeline wants another four years to finish work. Virginians remain split. 

By: - July 27, 2022 12:04 am

Construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline in May 2021, submitted in a construction report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

As Mountain Valley Pipeline seeks a four-year extension to finish building the long-delayed project, intended to carry natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields into Virginia, Virginians remain as divided as ever on the pipeline’s fate. 

Initially expected to be completed by 2018, Mountain Valley has faced staunch opposition from environmental groups and some landowners who object to the company’s crossing of their property. 

A string of legal challenges in the Richmond-based U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has effectively blocked the project from proceeding over the past few years. In repeated rulings, the court has overturned permits issued by federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 

As delays (and costs) have mounted, the developers have been forced to seek extensions of their certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC approval is required for pipeline projects to move forward. 

Mountain Valley Pipeline’s initial certification expired in October 2020. A two-year extension granted by FERC that year is set to expire in October 2022. 

This June, the company filed a request with FERC to extend its certification through October 2026, saying it “has continued to actively progress construction of the project but has continued to experience delays due to litigation and subsequent agency remands related to certain permits and authorizations.” 

Without the extension, the company will not be able to continue its work, but such an outcome is expected to lead to more litigation.

Public comments filed with FERC since the request show Virginia residents, officials and organizations still deeply split over the project. 

“MVP needs another extension because we citizens keep suing them and the courts keep taking permits away. We sue them because there are egregious violations,” wrote Bob Peckham of Roanoke County. “Whether they are incompetent or the task is impossible, either way, time limits are placed so that we know when to stop.” 

In filings, opponents repeatedly point to erosion and sediment problems linked to the pipeline, including several hundred in 2018 that led then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office to file a lawsuit against the company. The litigation was resolved in October 2019 with Mountain Valley agreeing to pay Virginia $2.15 million

“For the past four years I have observed the terrible erosion of the land where it has been stripped, and the negative effects on our most precious resource, our water,” wrote Marjorie Lewter of New Castle, a town in Craig County. “This area has the largest aquifer of pure clean mountain spring water in the East. I have observed muddy waters pouring from the pipeline right of way with every rain event.”

Proponents of the four-year extension insist that ongoing delays in the pipeline’s completion increase negative environmental impacts associated with it.

“Please assist MVP in whatever way possible to expedite completion. More damage is being done currently to the environment with unfinished landscaping and exposed pipe,” wrote Marilyn Starkey of Rocky Mount. 

“I question how MVP was allowed to start construction without all the questions and possible scenarios being covered that has allowed the various agencies and organizations to throw up roadblocks to the completion,” she added. “I am also concerned that if the project is abandoned how quickly will the land be reclaimed.” 

Other comments in support of the project’s completion emphasize regional claims that increased gas supply is needed to spur economic development. 

Roanoke Gas, which has a contract for a portion of the gas Mountain Valley is expected to carry, called the necessity of the project “a simple and undeniable truth.”

“Since October 2020, Roanoke Gas has added 1,134 new customers. Approximately 10% of these new customers are commercial and industrial,” the company wrote. “Project completion is vital to Roanoke Gas’ ability to provide long-term, reliable energy supplies at a reasonable cost to the residents and businesses in the greater Roanoke Valley.” 

Opponents, however, argue that the company and the oil and gas industry are exaggerating demand and that as concerns over climate change grow and fossil fuels are increasingly phased out, infrastructure like the pipeline will increasingly be at risk of being stranded. 

Environmental and economic development nonprofit Appalachian Voices in language reproduced by several commenters in FERC filings argued there is a “real probability that the gas capacity that the Mountain Valley Pipeline could provide will be underutilized and less financially viable than existing supply.” 

“Other projects, such as the Atlantic Sunrise expansion, have provided sufficient additional capacity to end users for the capacity that the Mountain Valley Pipeline could have provided,” the group wrote. 

Local government findings show county officials, like their residents, also hold differing views on the project. 

Craig County, where part of the pipeline is planned to cross the Jefferson National Forest, is formally opposing an extension of the project’s deadline, citing environmental impacts and questioning whether it “remains necessary or in the public interest, given changed circumstances in the almost five years since it received its original certificate from the commission.” 

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meanwhile passed a resolution in favor of the pipeline’s completion, calling it “the most effective way to prevent erosion and sediment control issues” and pointing to $1.8 million in property taxes the project is expected to generate for the county. The county’s industrial development authority and Chatham mayor William Pace also submitted comments in support.

Franklin County Administrator Christopher Whitlow meanwhile in comments expressed neither support for nor opposition to the pipeline but instead noted citizen concerns and reiterated a number of questions county officials have voiced about performance guarantees and protections. 

Unlike local leaders, Republican state lawmakers have adopted a unified stance in their comments to FERC. Filings from Sen. Frank Ruff of Mecklenburg and Dels. Chris Head of Botetourt, Terry Kilgore of Scott and Les Adams of Pittsylvania all urge approval of the four-year extension. 

“The regulatory delays and legal uncertainties surrounding this important infrastructure project are detrimental to landowners, local communities, the environment, the commonwealth and our nation,” wrote Kilgore, who also serves as House majority leader. “It is in everyone’s interest for work on this project to conclude and for the pipeline to enter service as soon as possible.” 

The FERC comment period closes July 29. 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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