FERC on Friday amended Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC’s (MVP) certificate order to allow for changes to the natural gas conduit’s construction plans for 183 waterbody and wetlands crossings along the project route.

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The latest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission action does not itself clear the way for the embattled 303-mile, 2 million Dth/d pipeline to resume construction. MVP must still obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — all either pending or tied up in court. 

Nonetheless, analysts viewed FERC’s latest move as potentially significant in the context of political pressure on the agency’s Democratic leadership and shifting energy policy priorities from the Biden administration following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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While not allowing MVP to resume construction, FERC’s approval of MVP’s certificate amendment “represents substantial evidence of federal regulatory support for the project in response to actions taken by a motivated project sponsor spurred by geopolitical events,” analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC told clients in a research note following Friday’s order.

Extraordinary measures under the Defense Production Act may not apply in MVP’s case, but “federal agencies could move the project ahead to solve the permitting issues through prioritizing it and focusing deployment of their own resources,” the ClearView analysts wrote. “We therefore view FERC’s action as the first in such a potential chain of events.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has criticized FERC Chairman Richard Glick’s policy priorities, arguing that they have slowed natural gas project approvals and driven up energy costs. The senator, calling for using U.S. fossil fuel production and exports to reduce Russia’s leverage over global energy markets, has specifically floated the idea of fast-tracking completion of the long-delayed MVP.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration last month agreed to expedite approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects as part of a joint task force with the European Commission, all in an effort to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

Alongside FERC’s recent decision to roll back controversial policy revisions on natural gas project approvals, the MVP order also appears to address Manchin’s criticism of the agency, according to the ClearView analysts.

“We view the April 8 order as a straightforward response” to both the senator’s concerns and to “growing political pressure arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy market dislocations that have followed,” the analysts wrote.

MVP, proposed to transport Appalachian Basin production from West Virginia to an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line in Virginia, is a joint venture of EQM Midstream Partners LP; NextEra Capital Holdings Inc.; Con Edison Transmission Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream LLC.