'Greener' MVP Positions Project Completion for Summer 2022

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Potential obstacles to Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) starting full operations next summer continue to fall away, with construction set to wrap up by October on all but 18 miles still awaiting permits. But environmental groups can take solace when the 2 billion cubic foot per day capacity gas line starts to flow supply 303 miles from West Virginia to southern Virginia and possibly as far as central northern North Carolina. Why? Because it will be a far greener project than originally envisioned after a four-year delay, with that difference epitomized by a recently unveiled plan on how MVP will become the first greenfield pipeline project to double down on carbon neutrality. “We understand the sensitivities that surround the blending of large-scale infrastructure projects with environmental protection,” Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of MVP operator Equitrans Midstream, said in the plan’s July release. “Equitrans Midstream is committed to aggressively pursuing climate change mitigation and adaptation while also balancing the immediate and increasing need for energy in our country. Today’s announcement represents our team’s latest effort to reduce industry methane emissions and achieve our corporate goal of net zero carbon by 2050." It’s safe to say no one would have imagined an Equitrans officer uttering those words five or six years ago when the bruising battle started over building MVP, or that it would likely be the last long-haul gas pipeline built out of Appalachia. But as Charletta knows, “sensibilities” have changed radically especially when dealing with state and federal regulators charged with project oversight. It's also an outcome the environmental lobby could hardly have imagined when it started its quixotic campaign against both MVP and Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the latter canceled in July 2020 as rising costs for the barely begun project became untenable (NGW Jul.13'20). But while legal battles over permitting and authorizations has delayed MVP by at least four years and raised its estimated cost 40% to $6.2 billion, Equitrans looks increasingly likely to start full operations next year. Nonetheless, those flows will reflect an evolving playbook to counter the green lobby's success. Carbon Offsets Aplenty Key to Equitrans’ environmental strategy is the purchase of $150 million worth of independently audited carbon offsets, enough to cover MVP’s first 10 years of operational emissions. That includes greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by compressor stations, released during operations and maintenance -- even emissions from purchased power. About 90% of those offsets will be from a Virginia methane abatement project, located at an active mine in southwest Virginia near the West Virginia border. It’s first phase opening this summer dovetails with MVP plans. The project will use an onsite regenerative thermal oxidizer to convert captured methane into carbon dioxide and water vapor, significantly reducing the methane's climate impact. MVP is also eyeing joining efforts in West Virginia to address abandoned and orphaned gas wells, possibly achieving carbon offsets of an additional 10% of its emissions, if not more. FERC's Shifting Priorities MVP’s mitigation plan might not play well with some sector participants, who could see it as unnecessary raising the bar for all gas projects. However, ClearView Energy analysts give it high marks for anticipating shifting priorities regarding GHGs now that Richard Glick chairs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) (NGW Aug.2'21). Democrat Glick, they note, “has clearly articulated his view that natural gas project sponsors can and should be taking more aggressive steps to limit the environmental impact of their projects, including GHG emissions.” MVP, then, is clearly being proactive, ClearView Director Christi Tezak told Energy Intelligence. “Even before he got the gavel, we asserted last December that if Glick became chairman that we anticipated project sponsors may move forward with voluntary mitigation in order to get through the regulatory process,” she said. NextDecade made a similar move with a plan to sequester GHG emissions associated with its Rio Grande LNG export facility, thereby giving Glick an example of natural gas companies voluntarily pursuing GHG limitation strategies (NGW Aug.9'21). And both moves could grease the regulatory wheels and aid the overall sector, Tezak said. “While GHG policy is in flux/development across the Biden administration, we do think that FERC -- under Glick’s leadership -- would like to find a way to say yes to gas projects that do a solid job of addressing GHG emissions, and voluntary mitigation gives a company control over that commitment,” she explained. “In other words, mitigation efforts may not need to be perfect, as of course the greens still oppose it. But politically, Glick would have the opportunity to move the policy ball forward on GHG reductions ... if FERC says yes to a project with voluntary mitigation,” she concludes. “Such an action would arguably rebut the contention that FERC doesn’t plan to approve any natural gas projects while he is leading the agency.” But more importantly, ClearView analysts contend, it will give MVP a clearer shot at the regulatory finish line. “We think it would be difficult for FERC to characterize the voluntary commitment to address direct emissions as unresponsive to the concerns related to GHGs raised in project reviews,” they said. “To the contrary, we think the commission could be inclined to applaud it. As such, we think this effort could help keep MVP’s certificate amendment review at FERC on track for approval later this year.” Favorable EA MVP notched another green bona fide this month when it received a favorable environmental assessment (EA) from FERC for a proposed change to how it plans to cross certain waterbodies and wetlands. If it obtains as expected needed water quality permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), it will be able to employ less intrusive trenchless methods rather than open-cut techniques when making those crossings. “The issuance of MVP’s EA was a significant step toward achieving full permitting and ultimate completion of this important infrastructure project,” Equitrans spokeswoman Natalie Cox told Energy Intelligence. “After performing an extensive evaluation of the potential impacts related to the changes in MVP’s proposed Certificate Amendment application, the FERC concluded the MVP project could be built safely; the changes would reduce potential impacts to waterbodies, wetlands and surface waters; and the changes would also reduce impacts to the overall riparian vegetation buffer.” This wasn't the only good news MVP has gotten recently. On Aug. 13, a US district judge said she lacked authority to block blasting bedrock on Bent Mountain in Roanoke County, Virginia, where MVP is laying some of its final pipe. The landowner asked for the legal injunction on grounds it could contaminate his well water and that of others downstream. That contention was not supported by the state DEQ. Also last week, the Monacan Indian Nation and the Sappony Tribe dismissed any claims regarding “serious concerns" regarding federal agency consultation for the MVP project. “We are pleased to share that Mountain Valley has listened to the tribes’ concerns and agreed to address them in a productive manner. Mountain Valley’s commitments enable the tribes to have greater confidence that the tribes will be able to work with Mountain Valley to address cultural and historic resource matters,” the tribe’s attorney Marion F. Werkheiser wrote in a letter to FERC. However Werkheiser also added, “It should not be construed as the tribes’ support for the pipeline projects.” Meanwhile, Cox said Equitrans is preparing for the final push once it obtains permits for the final 18 miles of pipeline -- 10 miles involving water crossings and 8 miles in and around the Jefferson National Forest. Equitrans said it plans to employ 4,000 workers to complete the project and was careful to note that most will be union construction workers. Tom Haywood, Houston

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