Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC (MVP), a project that has faced implacable opposition in the courts, secured a legal victory Wednesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the natural gas conduit’s revamped Endangered Species Act approvals.

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The Fourth Circuit, a venue that has not shown much sympathy toward MVP in recent years, denied a motion to stay the biological opinion (BiOp) and incidental take statement issued to the pipeline by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The USFWS completed the updated review documents, required under the Endangered Species Act, in September. That was the culmination of a reinitiated consultation process that resulted from legal scrutiny of the original approvals issued during the pipeline’s FERC certification process.

Having found success challenging the earlier approvals, environmental groups returned to court to oppose the updated USFWS review with a petition led by Appalachian Voices. However, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory, joined by Judges James A. Wynn Jr. and Stephanie D. Thacker, ruled in favor of MVP, keeping the USFWS approvals in place for now, a move that should allow recently restarted construction activities on the pipeline to continue.

Lending significance to the favorable decision for MVP, just over a week earlier the same three Fourth Circuit judges opted to stay MVP’s updated Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) waterbody crossing approvals in a separate challenge filed by environmental groups.

Wednesday’s ruling “means that construction on the project may continue while the court considers the merits of the appeals…with the exception of waterbody crossings covered by the suspended” NWP 12 “and the segment of the project in and around the Jefferson National Forest,” analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC wrote following the decision.

The ClearView analysts had considered a stay of the USFWS approvals highly possible given the recent NWP 12 decision.

“We noted MVP’s argument that the alleged harm to a particular individual’s property was refuted by the record, and had written that we thought the Nov. 2 stay request might be less concrete than the failings alleged” in similar challenges to the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s BiOp and the previous MVP BiOp, the analysts said. “Yet, in light of the NWP 12 ruling, we were not convinced that it would be enough to prevent a stay order.”

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.

Management for developer Equitrans Midstream Corp. 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.

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