The oft-delayed and increasingly costly Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP) has encountered another legal setback, as the natural gas conduit’s stream-crossing permitting has again been put on hold pending an ongoing review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The Fourth Circuit issued a stay Monday after hearing oral arguments in a case filed by environmental groups challenging the Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) approvals issued to the embattled pipeline by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Army Corps recently renewed the project’s NWP 12 authority, which had been on hold following an unfavorable 2018 ruling from the Fourth Circuit. Environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club, wasted little time in asking the circuit court to rule against the new permits.

The Fourth Circuit, which has ruled against MVP and the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline on multiple occasions in recent years, offered little in the way of explanation for its decision in Monday’s order, stating only that “an opinion as to the court’s reasoning will follow at a later date.”

Breaking down the back and forth during oral arguments Monday, analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC observed that the judges presiding over the case “appeared to poke holes in the arguments offered by both sides.”

Hearing the arguments were Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory, nominated by President Clinton, and Judges James A. Wynn Jr. and Stephanie D. Thacker, both nominees of President Obama.

“The court has now converted the current administrative stay to a conventional stay pending the conclusion of their review of Sierra Club’s appeal,” the ClearView analysts said. “With the stay now extended for the duration of the appeal, the waterbody crossing work dependent on this permit may not take place until the court rules on the underlying appeal.

“Therefore, in order to resume work in 2021 and meet its recently revised guidance to be in service in the second half of 2021, the Corps and MVP would need to prevail” in the case.

MVP’s developers are “disappointed” with the Fourth Circuit’s latest decision, according to spokesperson Natalie Cox for project sponsor Equitrans Midstream Corp. (EQM).

“We are hopeful and expect that once the case is reviewed on the merits of the arguments there will be a different conclusion,” Cox told NGI. “Although the Nationwide Permit 12 is certainly important to MVP, the crews are continuing with all other aspects of the project — including forward construction work in various upland areas along the route, as authorized and permitted.

“In addition, the project team is continuing its activities to maintain and enhance erosion and sedimentation controls and complete final restoration work along portions of the right-of-way, which is the most protective measure for the environment.”

Since receiving a certificate of convenience and necessity from FERC in 2017, MVP has faced numerous challenges in its efforts to construct the 300-mile, 2 million Dth/d interstate pipeline, designed to transport Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas from West Virginia to an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line in southwestern Virginia.

MVP only recently received authorization to resume construction after a prolonged delay amid challenges to multiple federal permits.

EQM COO Diana Charletta said during a recent 3Q2020 earnings call the company is targeting a full in-service date in the second half of 2021, with a total project cost estimated at $5.8-6 billion.

“While we are disappointed with the setbacks that have led to cost increases and delays, we remain steadfast that MVP will reach completion and more importantly that the value of this critical infrastructure project will be realized,” Charletta said.

MVP is a joint venture between EQM Midstream Partners LP, NextEra Capital Holdings Inc., Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC.