Pipeline Partially owned by Utilities gets Fed Approval to Restart Construction

(Editor’s note: Generic photo of a natural gas pipeline)

Work on an Appalachian natural gas pipeline partially owned by affiliates of two utilities can be restarted thanks to separate rulings from federal regulators and appellate judges.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline got two thumbs up to continue from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals after delays over the route through the mountains of West Virginia to Virginia. The 300-mile pipeline is partially owned by divisions of NextEra Energy and Consolidated Edison.

Full construction activities can restart for the pipeline expected to be in service by late 2019, thanks to FERC, while the pipeline can now cross through wetlands and streams, thanks to the Fourth Circuit’s ending of a stay. The $3.5 billion Mountain Valley project, which is majority owned by EQT Corp., also has federal approval to move through the Blue Ridge Parkway linking the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

“With these orders issued by the FERC and the Fourth Circuit Court, MVP is now able to return approximately 1,000 workers who have been suspended from their duties on the project,” reads a statement on the Mountain Valley Pipeline website. “As we continue with safe and responsible construction activities along the vast majority of the route, we will coordinate with the agencies to address the court’s concerns with the Federal Land Permits. We appreciate the collaborative and concerted efforts by all state and federal agencies and look forward to the in-service of this important infrastructure project.”

MVP officials continue to say they plan to have the pipeline in service sometime during the fourth quarter 2019. The pipeline will help alleviate infrastructure constraints in the region, moving gas from the big plays in the abundant Marcellus and Utica shales.

NextEra Energy’s natural gas web page noted that the utility is generating more electricity with gas turbine combined cycle plants that are more efficient and cleaner burning. Natural gas is now 46 percent of the utility’s generation fuel mix, according to a May 2018 investor presentation, while coal has dropped to only two percent.

Overall, natural gas’ growing dominance as a low-cost fuel source has risen to hold 37 percent of the national generation mix this summer and will take up 35 percent annually compared to coal’s 27 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Those positions were basically reversed not too many years ago.

Meanwhile, worries over natural gas accessibility is impacting many grid operators, including system operator ISO New England. In a report to FERC earlier this year, ISO New England noted its limited gas infrastructure that heightened its “fuel security risks.”

Another example is on the west coast, where ongoing system operating conditions have limited Southern California Gas Co.’s intake to about 65 percent of full capacity. SoCalGas is owned by Sempra Energy.

The project is opposed by numerous environmental and Appalachian Trail groups. One of them, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has noted that its work to accomodate several pipeline projects but has opposed MVP for having “carved” and “gashed” steep mountainsides.