Federal regulators are allowing most construction to resume on the Mountain Valley pipeline, a natural gas project stalled by court action this summer.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today granted approval for work to continue on all but 4 miles of the project.
"In consultation with staff, I have determined that protection of the environment along the Project’s right-of-way across non-federal land is best served by completing construction and restoration activities as quickly as possible," Terry Turpin, director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, wrote in a letter this afternoon.
FERC halted work along the full length of the pipeline a month ago after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scrapped two other agencies’ decisions to greenlight Mountain Valley’s crossing of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and Army Corps of Engineers land in West Virginia. The court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service didn’t adequately study their decisions.
Now developers can continue working on all parts of the route except those two crossings of federal land. FERC’s move follows BLM’s recent submission of its court-ordered analysis of alternatives to Mountain Valley’s route across federal lands.
In the new review, BLM took a closer look at route alternatives that would track more closely with existing rights of way in the national forest. BLM concluded that they are not practical for a variety of reasons, including increased disturbance of federal lands, bypassing of mid-route gas delivery points and state restrictions on pipeline siting along highways.
Mitchell Leverette, acting director of BLM’s Eastern States office, and Joe Balash, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, signed the new analysis.
The review is dated Aug. 23 and was published on FERC’s docket today. BLM must separately issue a formal decision document to reauthorize the pipeline right of way. The agency did not respond to a question about the timing of that decision.
Last month’s 4th Circuit ruling also requires the Forest Service to revisit its approval of Mountain Valley’s forest route. That review is ongoing.
Environmental lawyers who fought the BLM and Forest Service approvals of the pipeline’s route said they are reviewing the new analysis.
Mountain Valley, which is backed by EQT Corp. and other companies, celebrated the news.
"With the FERC granting approval for MVP to recommence its construction activities, with exception of areas in proximity to the Weston Gauley Bridge Turnpike Trail and Jefferson National Forest, we are pleased that we will soon be able to bring back a significant amount of workers who were temporarily suspended from their duties on the project," spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an email.
"Moving forward," she added, "we will continue to coordinate with the agencies to address the Court’s remaining issues and look forward to continuing with the safe, responsible construction of the pipeline along the full 303-mile route."