CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal agency has given final environmental approval — although not yet final approval overall — for the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline project.
The pipeline would go through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties to transport West Virginia natural gas to out-of-state markets.
“We determined that construction and operation of the projects would result in limited adverse environmental impacts, with the exception of impacts on forest,” concluded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate natural gas pipelines.
“We conclude that approval of the projects would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but the majority of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”
The pipeline developers have been seeking approval since 2014. The developers include EQT Midstream Partners; NextEra; Con Edison Transmission; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream
The Mountain Valley Pipeline would extend new 42-inch natural gas pipeline over 303.5 miles. The project also involves three new compressor stations.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tasked with assessing the affects of the pipeline project. The environmental assessment is a major step but the commission still must determine whether to issue a final certificate.
Right now FERC has only two commissioners and lacks a quorum to issue such a certificate. President Donald Trump has nominated two additional commissioners who are pending before the Senate.
The full environmental approval report is 930 pages, although there are also thousands of pages of supporting materials.
The federal agency examined how the pipeline project might affect a variety of factors, including forests, wildlife habitats, scenic views, air quality and safety.
Regulators concluded that the developers were taking appropriate precautions to control erosion and sediment. Additional plans would help mitigate the effects of the project on sensitive terrain, including karst topography characterized by sinkholes and caves, FERC concluded.
Citizen and environmental groups were quick to offer reaction today, saying the precautions offered by Mountain Valley would not be sufficient for such a large project.
A coalition of groups opposed to the pipeline, including Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, issued a statement opposing FERC’s position.
“FERC ignores the most harmful impacts this 300-mile-long pipeline for fracked gas would have on lives, communities, drinking water supplies, private property, local economies, and publicly owned natural resources,” the groups stated.
“The groups called these risks unacceptable, especially for a pipeline that is not even needed. The coalition also calls the pipeline an assault on the climate and the future of children in West Virginia and Virginia, and notes that the pipeline can still be blocked on multiple federal, state, and legal levels.”
Ben Luckett, a senior attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, told the Roanoke Times that the mitigation strategies in the environmental report won’t be sufficient for the project’s scope and challenging terrain.
“Our experience with much smaller pipelines that have been constructed through the steep, difficult terrain of the region shows that the industry-standard practices proposed by MVP will not be sufficient to prevent catastrophic erosion and soil loss,” Luckett told the newspaper.
“A pipeline of this size has never been constructed through this type of terrain. By granting a certificate, FERC would basically be authorizing a massive experiment, with the land and people of West Virginia and southwest Virginia acting as the lab rats. This is unacceptable.”
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, responded to those criticisms via email to the Roanoke Times.
“It is unfortunate, although not surprising, that steadfast opponents of the MVP project would reflexively dismiss findings that do not align with their view,” Cox said.
“For almost three years, we have worked with residents and landowners in our Virginia and West Virginia communities to make sure the Mountain Valley Pipeline is being designed, and will be constructed, safely and responsibly, and that we are doing so in a way that has minimal impacts on their land and their daily lives.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of several pending projects, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, that could transport West Virginia natural gas to new markets.