The Mountain Valley Pipeline – Authorized at Last

Construction site of oil pipeline. New Oil pipeline under busy construction site

 

On June 11, 2024, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) authorized the Mountain Valley Pipeline (“MVP”) to begin its operations.[1] MVP is a 303-mile-long pipeline that will have the capacity to transport 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, originating in Wetzel County, West Virginia, MVP will ultimately merge with the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline (a 10,000-mile pipeline system from Texas to New York) in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.[2] This authorization, however, has not come quickly or easily, as the Mountain Valley Pipeline has seen its share of adversity.

Broad Overview of MVP’s Controversy Timeline

From its commencement, the Mountain Valley Pipeline has never been uncontested, but some contests were more noteworthy than others. No controversy seemed more contentious than the controversy surrounding the Jefferson National Forest. Notably, in 2018, the FERC issued a project-wide stop work order as there were questions surrounding the sufficiency of the right-of-way permits granting the pipeline easement related to the federal land.[3] Eventually, however, the stop orders were lifted, and progress began again, with the exception of the Jefferson National Forest.

As to be expected with a project of this magnitude, there were various environmental groups and landowners that opposed the construction of the pipeline. One of these was the Wilderness Society, which challenged the pipeline in 2023 as it was related to the Jefferson National Forest.[4] The Wilderness Society argued that the United States Forest Service illegally contravened the forest management plan of the Jefferson National Forest to grant the pipeline authorization.[5]  As a result, on July 10, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a stop order of production, although the pipeline was more than 90% complete.[6] Ultimately, the Wildness Society’s victory was short-lived, as the United States Supreme Court vacated the stop order on July 27, 2023.[7]

Subsequently, the pipeline was slated to reestablish its operations in May 2024. However, on May 1st, the pipeline ruptured, which brought more concerns from residents and environmental groups to the forefront.[8] Specifically, landowners and environmental groups tried, once again, to delay the pipeline by any means necessary. Ultimately, these final efforts were unsuccessful, as the authorization was finalized on June 11, 2024.

How MVP Was Pushed Through

The owners/operators of the Mountain Valley Pipeline were forced to deal with weather delays, a myriad of regulations, and even more challenges from opposition. However, the effort that contributed the biggest push across the finish line was the Fiscal Responsibility Act that President Biden signed into law on June 3, 2023. The primary intention of this bill was to enlarge the United States’ debt ceiling.  However, without compromise related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, there likely would not be a Fiscal Responsibility Act. Thus, the Fiscal Responsibility Act included a section purely dedicated to the completion of the MVP, in which §324(c)(1) states: “Congress hereby ratifies and approves all authorizations, permits, verifications, extensions, biological opinions, incidental take statements, and any other approvals or orders issued pursuant to Federal law necessary for the construction and initial operation at full capacity of the Mountain Valley Pipeline[.]”[9]

After the Fiscal Responsibility Act was signed into law, the pathway to completion was significantly less burdensome for Equitrans Midstream Corporation (the operator of the MVP). Now, all they had to do was comply with the safety and environmental regulations to get the green light from the FERC.

Where We Are Now

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is currently available for interruptible, short-term transportation before the shipping contracts commence on July 1, 2024, with multiple different shippers using one hundred percent of the MVP’s capacity for the next twenty years.[10] After a timely and heavily contested battle, the Mountain Valley Pipeline is officially open.

 

References

[1] New Mountain Valley Pipeline to Begin Operations, U.S. Energy Information Administration (June 14, 2024), New Mountain Valley Pipeline to begin operations – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

[2] Id.

[3] Mountain Valley Pipeline Responds to Stop Work Order, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC., (August 6, 2018), FERC-SWO-August-3-FINAL.pdf (mountainvalleypipeline.info)

[4] Ben Lefebvre, Appeals Court Orders Temporary Halt to Mountain Valley Pipeline Construction, Politico (July 10, 2023), https://www.politico.com/news/2023/07/10/appeals-court-mountain-valley-pipeline-halt-ruling-00105551.

[5] Peter McGuire, Enviros Open 4th Circ. Challenge to Mountain Valley Pipeline, Law360 (July 5, 2023), https://www.law360.com/articles/1696005?scroll=1&related=1.

[6] Lefebvre, Appeals Court Orders Temporary Halt.  

[7] Ariane de Vogue and Ella Nilsen, Supreme Court clears way for Mountain Valley Pipeline construction to proceed, CNN (July 27, 2023), Supreme Court clears way for Mountain Valley Pipeline construction to proceed | CNN Politics

[8] Catherine Morehouse, FERC gives green light to start up Mountain Valley Pipeline, Politico (June 11, 2024), FERC gives green light to start up Mountain Valley Pipeline – POLITICO

[9] 118 P.L. 5, 2023 Enacted H.R. 3746, 118 Enacted H.R. 3746, 137 Stat. 10.

[10] New Mountain Valley Pipeline, U.S. Energy Information Administration (June 14, 2024).

 

Authored by Tanner Cremeans, Matthew Gibson (Law Clerk), and Andrew Good

Andrew represents companies active in the oil and gas industry in both litigation and arbitration matters, from risk management to trial. He also advises clients on compliance and regulatory issues and handles proceedings in front of administrative agencies / governmental bodies, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Commerce.

In addition to his energy practice, Andrew has broad experience in commercial and business litigation, including breach of contract / lease claims, construction disputes, non-compete / non-solicitation disputes, trade secrets, business torts, and real property-related claims. He is OSHA certified in Construction Safety and Health and has drafted and reviewed numerous construction contracts.

Tanner advises on upstream energy title, transactional, and litigation matters, including risk management and compliance issues.

Tanner clerked at Oliva Gibbs during law school, establishing a solid foundation that prepared him for his current role as an associate. He has a diverse legal background, having started as an Ohio Senate Page at the Ohio Senate, followed by an internship at the U.S. House of Representatives. Tanner gained further experience as a Judicial Intern at the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and Hamilton County Probate Court.

While in law school, Tanner served as a Note Editor for the Capital University Law Review.  In his free time, he enjoys reading literary journals, writing, and golfing.

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