The sponsors of Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) are evaluating what comes next for the beleaguered natural gas project after a federal appeals court on Wednesday vacated its Endangered Species Act (ESA) authorizations and further setback construction. 

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit invalidated MVP’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, sending them back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for further review. Without the authorizations, construction can’t move ahead. The order comes after the Fourth Circuit last month vacated and remanded approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that permit the pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest. 

“The MVP project team is taking time to thoroughly review the information outlined in the decision and is evaluating the project’s next steps regarding the Biological Opinion,” lead sponsor Equitrans Midstream Corp. said Thursday. “We remain committed to completing the MVP project and believe the concerns associated with MVP’s Biological Opinion can be addressed by the agency.”

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The court found that USFWS failed to adequately analyze the project’s impacts on the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, a nearly extinct species. It’s not the first time MVP’s ESA authorizations have slowed construction. The Fourth Circuit previously stayed the authorizations in 2019 after the Sierra Club and other environmental groups petitioned for their review. USFWS reissued the permits in 2020, but the plaintiffs pressed ahead with their case. 

The 303-mile, 2 Bcf/d system would move more Appalachian natural gas from West Virginia to the Southeast. MVP is nearly 94% complete, with more than half of the right-of-way fully restored. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificated the project in 2017, but it has been dogged by legal and regulatory setbacks that have dragged out the construction process. The project is a joint venture of Equitrans, NextEra Capital Holdings Inc., Con Edison Transmission Inc., WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC.