October 2021, Vol. 248, No. 10


FERC Blesses MVP’s Use of Trenchless Technology

By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor, Washington D.C.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), bringing fracked gas 300 miles (483 km) from West Virginia to Virginia, cleared its latest federal regulatory hurdle when FERC said in an environmental assessment that the trenchless technology MVP plans to use when crossing water bodies met with FERC’s approval.  

FERC’s decision was not final, however, and it could be influenced by public comments that will be forthcoming. The MVP had originally planned to use open-cut dry crossings for the streams and water bodies at issue.  

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Equitrans Midstream Corporation (EQM), the MVP’s operator and main partner, said, “The issuance of MVP’s EA was a significant step towards achieving full permitting and ultimate completion of this important infrastructure project.” 

Total project work on the MVP is more than 92-percent complete, including more than 264 miles (425 km) of pipe welded and in-place. 

Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for Appalachian Voices, an environmental group that has been the leading opponent of the MVP, argues, “Trenchless methods of crossing have resulted in major pollution events during the construction of other pipelines, such as inadvertent returns and frac-outs, so FERC should be asking itself whether those risks have been fully mitigated.” 

The MVP is also awaiting final approval of its Nationwide Permit 12, which the Army Corps of Engineers grants for crossing of wetlands. The Corps relies, in part, on states to complete Clean Water Act evaluations of any construction upon which the Corps then bases its NWP 12. The Corps did issue an NWP 12 for the MVP in 2020. But that was called into question by lawsuits and the change in administrations.  

That forced EQM and its partners to reassess the water body crossings. In early 2021 the MVP filed an amendment to its earlier construction approval citing revisions in the way it would cross the water bodies at issue. FERC then performed an environmental assessment of those new crossing protections and approved the changes based on trenchless technology. 

Virginia has done the same, reviewing its initial permit. On Aug. 25, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued its draft 401 permit, which is a critical element in the regulatory process and another important step forward for the MVP project. EQM’s Cox calls Virginia’s action “a critical element in the regulatory process and another important step forward for the MVP project.” 

The MVP amendment pledged to change the crossing method of specific waterbodies and wetlands from open-cut dry crossings to trenchless methods, including conventional bore, guided conventional bore, or Direct Pipe. Specifically, Mountain Valley proposed to use trenchless methods at 120 locations to cross 136 streams and 47 wetlands that FERC originally authorized as open-cut crossings.  

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