Already slowed by winter conditions and the court’s cancellation of two vital permits, construction of the Mountain Valley pipeline suffered another setback this week.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would not act on Mountain Valley’s pending claim to cross creeks and wetlands now that a federal appeals court has overturned the finding of a another agency that the pipeline would not endanger endangered species in its path.
“Our assessment will require consideration of a valid BO,” or biological opinion, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps Col. Jayson Putnam wrote in a letter Wednesday to an attorney for opponents of the pipeline.
On February 3, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States overturned an opinion of the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, ruling that the agency had not sufficiently considered the impact of the construction of the natural gas pipeline. of 303 miles on endangered species in its path.
After receiving Putnam’s letter, attorney Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates on Friday withdrew a request to the Fourth Circuit to suspend the stream crossing clearance process, which had been completed prior to the 3 February.
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With the Corps’ assurances that it will not go ahead at this time, there is no longer evidence of “irreparable damage” to the environment that would have warranted a reprieve, Teaney wrote in court documents.
The latest development means Mountain Valley is a long way from getting the three rounds of federal permits it needs to complete the $6.2 billion project.
“The Corps’ recent letter means MVP cannot get an ‘all-access pass’ to our waterways until the effects of the pipeline on endangered fish are carefully investigated,” Caroline Hansley said. , lead organizer of the Sierra Club, in a statement. Friday.
In rejecting the biological advisory, the Fourth Circuit raised concerns about the fate of two endangered species – the Roanoke log and the candy darter – that feed along river bottoms that are at risk of be covered by sediments washed away by precipitation from pipeline construction sites.
Mountain Valley has been cited nearly 400 times for violating state regulations meant to limit erosion and sedimentation.
For the past four years, the company has obtained permits from federal agencies, only to have them rescinded following appeals by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
Mountain Valley’s most recent plan was to complete the pipeline this summer. A spokeswoman for the joint venture of five energy companies building the pipeline could not be immediately reached on Friday.
EQT Corp., a natural gas driller that will be transported through the pipeline from northern West Virginia to an existing line in Pittsylvania County, said Thursday it tentatively expects Mountain Valley to be in service. by mid-2023.
During a conference call Thursday to discuss EQT’s first-quarter earnings, company officials said the projection was a “placeholder” until more definitive word comes from Mountain Valley.
Original plans called for the buried pipeline to be completed by the end of 2018.
Although all but about 20 miles of the pipe is now in the ground, Mountain Valley was unable to cross under creeks and wetlands or work in the Jefferson National Forest.
In these areas, the 42-inch steel pipe sat above ground for years, suspended on wooden platforms called cribs.
One of the enclosures deteriorated to the point that a section of the pipe slipped and slid about 40 feet down a snowy slope, according to an inspection report filed Friday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Jan. 19 incident occurred in a section of the Montgomery County National Forest not far from where the pipeline reaches Brush Mountain.
No one was injured and there was no apparent environmental damage, the report said.
Earlier this week, questions about Mountain Valley were raised at a meeting of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which was interviewing candidates for Interior Department positions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the committee, expressed frustration with the latest permit denials.
“He’s been met with trial after trial after trial,” Manchin said in a recording posted on the committee’s website. “This product needs to come to market.”
The senator, whose state includes the first 200 miles of the 303-mile pipeline, asked candidate Laura Daniel-Davis how quickly issues identified by the Fourth Circuit would be corrected to allow a new permit for the pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National. Forest.
“We work closely with the Attorney’s Office, the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service [to address the issue]said Daniel-Davis, who is considered the assistant secretary of the interior for land and mineral management.
During EQT’s conference call on Thursday, company officials remained optimistic about the project despite repeated setbacks.
Natural gas shortages in New England and elsewhere show there is a need for the fossil fuel that EQT extracts from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, according to company president and CEO Toby Rice. .
“We are really looking forward to completing this pipeline project,” Rice told financial analysts on the call.