FERC has authorized Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC to resume construction on roughly 200 miles of its 303-mile route, largely freeing the 2 Bcf/d Appalachian takeaway project from the regulatory limbo of a stop work order issued roughly three weeks ago.

Allowing construction to continue along much of the pipeline’s right-of-way from West Virginia to Virginia is the best option for limiting environmental impacts, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Terry Turpin, director of the Office of Energy Projects.

Based on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) “determination that the route previously approved by all federal agencies provides the greatest level of collocation for an alternative crossing that is also practical, the specific route of the project no longer seems in question,” Turpin wrote in a letter to the developers Wednesday.

Earlier this month, FERC ordered MVP to stop all construction work along the 42-inch diameter interstate pipeline’s route, citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision to vacate federal approvals issued by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and BLM to cross the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Montgomery counties, VA, and Monroe County, WV.

Wednesday’s authorization does not allow the developers to construct across federally owned lands “for which MVP has not yet obtained the rights-of-way and temporary use permits from the federal government,” according to FERC.

This includes a planned crossing of the Weston and Gauley Bridge Turnpike in West Virginia and land between mileposts 196 and 221, a stretch encompassing the proposed 3.5 mile crossing of the Jefferson National Forest, according to FERC.

“Approximately 65% of the right-of-way between mileposts 77 and 303 has been cleared of vegetation, with a significant portion of that length having been graded,” Turpin said Wednesday. “…Maintaining the status quo across non-federal lands while” the USFS, the Army Corps of Engineers and BLM address the court’s instructions “would likely pose threats to plant and wildlife habitat and adjacent waterbodies as long-term employment of temporary erosion control measures would subject significant portions of the route to erosion and soil movement.

“Requiring immediate restoration of the entire right-of-way to pre-construction conditions would require significant additional construction activity, also causing further environmental impacts.”

FERC had already eased its stop work order by allowing construction to resume between mileposts 0 and 77 in West Virginia, with staff reaching a similar conclusion on the potential environmental impacts of halting progress for areas where the right-of-way has already been cleared and graded.

The vacated federal approvals and FERC’s stop work order raised the prospect of delays for MVP, and the developer subsequently pushed its target start-up date back from early 2019 to 4Q2019. Whether that timeline could be revised again following FERC’s decision to allow most of the project to resume construction was unclear as of Wednesday.

“We appreciate the BLM’s prompt review and additional, in-depth analysis of MVP alternatives with respect to federal lands and agree with their conclusion regarding the practicality of the project’s currently permitted route,” MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an email to Daily GPI. “…We are pleased that we will soon be able to bring back a significant amount of workers who were temporarily suspended from their duties on the project.

“Moving forward, we will continue to coordinate with the agencies to address the court’s remaining issues and look forward to continuing with the safe, responsible construction of the pipeline along the full 303-mile route.”

Though Wednesday’s FERC action came under authority delegated to staff, Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick issued a joint statement opposing the decision. LaFleur and Glick have dissented in recent FERC proceedings related to MVP.

“We have significant concerns with today’s decision to allow construction to resume while required right-of-way and temporary use permits remain outstanding,” the Democratic commissioners said. “…We supported staff’s decision given the significance of the order and the questions it raised regarding the future viability of the MVP Project.

“Today’s action also highlights a broader concern regarding the Commission’s response to federal court actions that remand or vacate a federal authorization that is among the necessary pre-conditions for commencing construction in the first place,” Glick and LaFleur continued. Due to “the increasing complexity of such issues…In the future, when a court remands or vacates a required federal authorization following the issuance of a notice to proceed, we believe the decision regarding whether and how to proceed with the pipeline should be made by the Commission rather than its staff.”

MVP, a joint venture of EQT Midstream Partners LP, NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC, is designed to deliver Marcellus and Utica shale gas to markets in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic via an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line in southwestern Virginia.