The Bulletin

Virginia says it can’t issue stream crossing permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline before winter

By: - March 29, 2021 5:43 pm

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project led a tour of the denuded, muddy construction site in June 2019 at Four Corners Farm in Franklin County. (Mason Adams/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Despite developers’ hopes of completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline by the end of 2021, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has told federal officials that it won’t be able to issue a new water quality permit for the project’s stream crossings before December.  

“Based on the complexity of this project and past public controversy, we cannot reasonably issue the (Virginia Water Protection) permit before December 2021 and we believe it is quite likely that we could not issue this permit until early 2022,” wrote DEQ Water Permitting Division Director Melanie Davenport in a March 25 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

While Mountain Valley Pipeline previously sought to use a “blanket permit” known as Nationwide Permit 12 to authorize all stream crossings along its 303-mile length, its developers reversed course in January following legal challenges and broader uncertainty regarding the permit’s future. 

Under Virginia’s State Water Control Law, any natural gas pipeline that is more than 36 inches in diameter has to obtain a Virginia Water Protection Permit covering “each wetland and stream crossing” from DEQ. Mountain Valley Pipeline is 42 inches in diameter. 

In her letter to the corps, Davenport said that review, public comment and public hearing procedures laid out in state law would make it “impossible” for Virginia to issue the permit by the July 2 deadline set by the Army Corps. 

Instead, the state is requesting that it be given until March 3, 2022, to issue the permit. 

Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox said that the pipeline’s in-service date of late 2021 remains in place.

“MVP believes that an efficient permitting process, including all required public participation, can be completed in a timely manner, and we are disappointed with the VDEQ’s recent request to extend the USACE’s ‘reasonable period of time’ to be one year,” she wrote in an email. “The federal and state agencies involved have a long-standing, in-depth knowledge of the project and well-understand the significant regulatory record that has been developed since 2015.

Once scheduled to be completed in 2018, Mountain Valley’s in-service date has been pushed back repeatedly as the project has faced intense public opposition, particularly in Virginia, numerous environmental violations and the loss of numerous permits as a result of court challenges. Another major pipeline intended to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to the South Atlantic region, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was canceled by developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in July 2020 after delays caused costs to balloon.

This story has been updated to add comments from MVP.

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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]