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After case dismissals, work on Mountain Valley Pipeline resumes in Virginia

Pipeline safety administration calls for further assessment of pipeline conditions following construction delays

Construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline has resumed in Virginia following the dismissal of several legal challenges that had been holding it up for years.

Matthew Stafford, a manager with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, told the State Water Control Board Wednesday the company resumed work on the pipeline on Aug. 4 and has completed eight stream and wetland crossings.

The 303-mile project is intended to deliver natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to southern Virginia and was first approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017. However, its progress was stalled by lawsuits over the pipeline’s environmental impacts that led the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to repeatedly overturn key federal permits it had been issued. 

Mountain Valley’s prospects changed dramatically in June when Congress passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act with a provision that required approval of all pending permits and stripped the 4th Circuit of jurisdiction to hear any challenges of those approvals. 

On Aug. 11, the 4th Circuit dismissed the last remaining pipeline cases, concluding any legal action over the constitutionality of the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s Mountain Valley provisions must be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mountain Valley has said it expects to complete work by the end of this year.

In Virginia, Stafford said work remains in sections of Montgomery and Roanoke counties. He told the board about 90% of the project’s tree clearing is complete, as is 82% of trenching, 87% of pipe laying, 82% of welding, 77% of backfilling and 19% of restoration. 

DEQ has received one pipeline-related complaint since June 22, he said, but after investigation “found no noncompliance.”

However, David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia, one of the groups that has been active in litigation against Mountain Valley, told the board that on July 14, a DEQ inspection of the pipeline found major sediment accumulation in a tributary of Flatwoods Branch, which is home to the endangered Roanoke logperch.

“We’re looking at a great deal of construction coming up here in the next six months, and we can add important information that you need to know,” Sligh said.

A DEQ spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sligh’s information.

Asked about Sligh’s claims, Mountain Valley spokesperson Natalie Cox pointed to a FERC filing by the company this March that accused Wild Virginia of seeking to “delay and obstruct” the project’s completion. 

“The best environmental outcome to protect the streams, wetlands, upland areas, and all terrestrial and aquatic species is to complete construction as soon as possible so that the right-of-way can be fully restored and revegetated,” Mountain Valley wrote. 

As work resumes, the project is also facing increased scrutiny from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Earlier this month, the agency issued a Notice of Proposed Safety Order for Mountain Valley calling for further assessment of pipeline conditions following the construction delays.

“PHMSA’s ongoing investigation indicates that conditions may exist on [Mountain Valley] facilities that pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment,” wrote Robert Burrough, director of the agency’s Eastern Region Office.

Cox said Mountain Valley “has worked closely with PHMSA.”

“Safety has always been MVP’s top priority, and we are committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable regulations to ensure the safety of our employees, contractors, assets, and communities,” Cox stated. “We expect federal and state regulators will continue to audit our construction practices during the next few months, and we welcome their expertise and oversight.” 

Source: Virginia Mercury