The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authorized the resumption of construction activities for the Mountain Valley pipeline, clearing the way for the natural gas project to move toward completion weeks after Congress ordered federal agencies to approve it.
In a unanimous order issued Wednesday, the commission said that all work on the 303-mile pipeline could proceed. That includes portions of the project that will run through the Jefferson National Forest and cross hundreds of waterways and wetlands in West Virginia and Virginia.
The commission also authorized FERC’s Office of Energy Projects to approve any future modifications to the Mountain Valley project as proposed by its sponsors — as long as the director of the office finds them “to be needed to complete construction.”
FERC’s order cites the debt ceiling bill that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month. It included provisions backed by West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R) mandating completion of the pipeline.
“Mountain Valley looks forward to flowing domestic natural gas this winter for the benefits of reliability and affordability in the form of lower natural gas prices for consumers, while also benefiting national energy security and helping to achieve state and national goals for lowering carbon emissions,” Natalie Cox, spokesperson for lead developer Equitrans Midstream Corp., said Wednesday in an email.
FERC’s action is the latest encouraging sign for the gas pipeline that has faced years of delays and legal setbacks since filing for a permit from FERC. Equitrans has said it will help deliver natural gas from shale reserves in Appalachia to markets in the eastern U.S. FERC initially approved the pipeline in 2017.
Cox said Wednesday that Mountain Valley developers expect construction crews to begin work on the project’s right of way “shortly.” The company aims to finish the project by the end of this year, she said. The pipeline’s price tag has been pegged at $6.6 billion.
The pipeline has been described by Manchin and others in Congress as a poster child for what they see as the nation’s inefficient energy permitting system. Still, the project, which crosses hundreds of private properties in West Virginia and Virginia, has been controversial because of its impacts on landowners and bodies of water and concerns about its greenhouse gas emissions.
Russell Chisholm, managing director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights coalition that has fought against the pipeline, said in a statement that he was “devastated” by Wednesday’s decision and vowed to continue the fight.
“The gas from the pipeline is unnecessary, the permanent local jobs provided are minimal, the endangerment to precious species is irreversible, water sources will be polluted, and earthquake and landslide prone areas stand in its wake,” Chisholm said.
Groups such as Appalachian Voices and Wild Virginia argued in a recent court filing that Congress overstepped when it used the new debt ceiling law to clear the way for the Mountain Valley pipeline to be completed.
Opponents of the project and pipeline safety advocates have also raised concerns about whether the pipes that have been laid for the project in the last several years can still be safely used for the flow of gas.
FERC’s action comes days after the pipeline secured a key permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. In its order Wednesday, FERC also said it was setting aside its policy of generally considering requests for rehearing before allowing construction.
“Thus, Mountain Valley is authorized by the Commission to proceed with all construction activities at all locations in accordance with federal authorizations, notwithstanding any request for rehearing of this order,” the commission said.