CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will continue to take up proposed gas pipeline projects individually in a rejection from two new commissioners, a majority, of a broader evaluation of the necessity of such infrastructure development.
FERC’s most recent pipeline approvals have included both the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline for transport of fracked natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus shales.
The FERC steps represent project progress, but are not the final steps in permitting processes that started years ago.
“Both pipelines still need state permits. They both still need other federal permits as well,” said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.
Water quality permits are among those still pending.
“They both face widespread opposition from community members and land owners who are worried about the impacts to their land and to their water and to their air and, at the end of the day, neither one of these pipelines are needed.”
Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, disagreed with that assessment at a time when the Mountain State’s natural gas is in high demand.
“If we don’t have the pipeline infrastructure in place then we can’t get the natural gas to market,” she said. “These two pipelines, in particular, are in place because of the need for the natural gas utilities in other states.”
As proposed, the $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline would span 600 miles from Harrison County and across Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina.
It’s a project from Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline would go 303 miles through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.
The MVP will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (Mountain Valley), which is a joint venture between EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.
“The timing was crucial for FERC to approve these. As it is with the others that have not been approved yet, there is a tree cutting season that will end at a certain time, so it’s crucial the construction for these projects gets underway,” Blankenship said.
From February to August following retirements, FERC operated without a quorum which delayed pipeline reviews.
Appointments of Robert Powelson, a former Pennsylvania utilities commissioner, and Neil Chatterjee, a policy aide to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as commissioners changed that. Chatterjee has served as chair.
In all, there are five seats available on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which the White House fills with appointees in consultation with the U.S. Senate.
Two seats remain vacant.
Powelson and Chatterjee joined Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur who submitted a rare dissent on the approval decisions for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines because, she said, she determined neither project was in the public interest.
“Deciding whether a project is in the public interest requires a careful balancing of the need for the project and its environmental impacts,” LaFleur wrote in her dissent. “In the case of the ACP and MVP projects, my balancing determination was heavily influenced by similarities in their respective routes, impact, and timing.”
The announcements were made late Friday.
Martin said LaFleur’s dissent was significant.
“I think that both pipelines still have an uphill battle to face in the court of public opinion in states and in federal court,” Martin told MetroNews. “I think that there’s a still long way to go before either of these pipelines are approved and ready to be constructed.”
The original targeted in-service date for the Mountain Valley Pipeline was the 4th quarter of 2018 with construction starting before the end of 2017.
For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, developers have revised the targeted in-service date with a current projection of early 2019.