Mountain Valley Pipeline’s cost rises to $5.5 billion, completion pushed to 2020

Workers have begun laying portions of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - July 26,2018)

The developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline again raised the estimated cost of the project and pushed back its completion date after federal regulators last week ordered construction stopped because of concerns over impacts to endangered and threatened species.

EQM Midstream Partners, LP, the operator of Mountain Valley Pipeline, said in a news release Tuesday morning that the project is now expected to cost $5.3 to $5.5 billion and will not begin operations until late 2020.

At the beginning of construction, estimates pegged the 303-mile pipeline’s costs at $3.5 billion, but that number has steadily been revised upward as the project has encountered record-breaking rainfall in the summer of 2018 and strong public and legal opposition.

The last cost estimate released by Mountain Valley Pipeline, in June 2019, put the project’s total price tag at between $4.8 and $5 billion and set an expected completion date of the last quarter of 2019.

The company, which says the project is 90 percent complete, attributed the increases to “changes to the previously planned construction schedule.”

“The project’s voluntary suspension of forward-construction and inability to work in streams and wetlands prevented Mountain Valley from fully completing portions of the route and shifted more mainline work into 2020,” EQM said. “This resequencing of work has created carrying costs and caused the use of additional time and crews needed to safely maintain the entire 303-mile route over the winter, as opposed to focusing on maintaining only unrestored sections of the route had construction been fully completed as planned during 2019.”

Mountain Valley Pipeline has faced repeated challenges over its permits, with the most recent blow falling last Tuesday, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered that all work be stopped except stabilization and restoration activities.

That ruling followed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to stay a key project permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until further consultation over the pipeline’s impacts to four endangered or threatened fish and bat species could occur. Earlier this month, Mountain Valley agreed to a  $2.15 million fine to resolve environmental violations stemming from construction in Virginia.

The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, another major natural gas pipeline that has sparked vigorous opposition in Virginia, has also seen steadily increasing costs and schedule delays. That project, backed by a consortium of energy companies headed by Dominion Energy, was last projected to cost $7.5 billion, with service rolling out between late 2020 and early 2021.