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Once again, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will finish later and cost more than planned
Once again, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will finish later and cost more than planned

Citing adverse weather and other challenges, the lead developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline said Tuesday that finishing construction on the natural gas project will cost more and happen later than previously planned.

Equitrans Midstream said that it expects the pipeline to be completed in the second quarter of this year instead of the current quarter and that it will ultimately cost between $7.57 billion and $7.63 billion, up from a previous estimate of $7.2 billion.

The revised figures mark the latest delay and price increase for the controversial 303-mile, 42-inch pipeline from West Virginia into southern Virginia, which was first announced in 2014 with an expected completion in 2018 at a price of $3.5 billion but has been delayed by years of legal and permitting challenges. Before Tuesday, it had most recently revised its timeline and cost estimates in October.

“We will finish up construction through March, and April will mostly be commissioning,” Equitrans President and CEO Diana Charletta said Tuesday on a conference call with investors. Commissioning generally refers to preparing a completed pipeline to transport gas.

Tuesday’s update came as Equitrans — which has the largest stake of any of the five companies participating in the Mountain Valley joint venture and will operate the pipeline — reported a fourth-quarter profit of $150 million, up from $82.2 million during the same quarter the year before.

Charletta said on the conference call that as of Feb. 15, less than 4 miles of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have yet to be installed. Of the 428 water crossings that remained when construction resumed last summer after a temporary pause, only 13 are left. And the pipeline’s first 77 miles are “purged and packed,” or cleaned out and readied for operation.

Construction tasks still to do include finishing the remaining water crossings, including boring under the Roanoke River; boring under the Appalachian Trail at Peters Mountain in the Jefferson National Forest; and installing pipe on some of the route’s steepest slopes.

Charletta said the Appalachian Trail crossing is about 60% complete. The company has about 20 feet left, out of about 330 feet, to bore under the Roanoke River, a process that she said is “slow-going, but it is going.”

“While the majority of MVP construction is complete, the remaining construction includes some of the most difficult tasks on the project and could present further challenges,” Charletta said.

Addressing the reasons behind the project’s latest delay and price increase, Charletta cited unforeseen construction issues and adverse weather in January, including abnormally high amounts of precipitation.

“While our construction plans took into account the potential effects of winter weather, these conditions were far worse and lasted much longer than anticipated, which had a significant impact on productivity, which in turn impeded our ability to reduce construction headcount,” Charletta said.

In January, Equitrans said it had approximately 2,000 contractors working on the Mountain Valley Pipeline as of the end of 2023 and hoped to reduce that figure to 500 by early March.

Charletta didn’t provide an updated number of current workers during Tuesday’s call. A company spokesperson didn’t provide a specific figure in response to a follow-up email from Cardinal News but said that the company expects to reduce headcount on the project as work is completed and that upcoming commissioning activities will require “far less labor” than construction activities.

Charletta also suggested on Tuesday that Equitrans Midstream might be in talks related to a merger or acquisition deal. Bloomberg News reported in December that Equitrans is “in the early stages of exploring a potential sale.”

“Our board has been engaged in a process with third parties that have expressed interest in strategic transactions with us,” Charletta said. “We are not surprised by this interest, given the expected near-term completion of MVP and our view of the strength of our assets. Our board has engaged outside advisors and the process is ongoing.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is set to transport up to 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily from West Virginia through six Virginia counties, ending at a Transco compressor station in Pittsylvania County.

A $370 million extension, MVP Southgate, is planned to run 31 miles from Pittsylvania County to Rockingham County, North Carolina, and to transport 550 million cubic feet of gas per day after its projected June 2028 completion.

Supporters say the Mountain Valley Pipeline will help move natural gas from Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to mid- and south-Atlantic U.S. markets, meeting energy demand. Opponents say the project is unnecessary, dangerous, and harmful to the environment.

Russell Chisholm, a Giles County resident and co-director of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR), a coalition of people and organizations opposed to the pipeline, said Tuesday’s announcement of the project delay and cost increase was “as predictable as a mudslide on these steep slopes in the rain.”

“Promises and assurances from MVP are meaningless because they are based entirely on corporate greed; they don’t operate in the realm of possibility or with any consideration to community safety. We’ve said it from the start and we’ll never stop: this project is a beleaguered climate nightmare that is a costly liability to its misguided investors,” Chisholm said.

On Wednesday, members of Third Act Virginia, an environmental advocacy group whose members are at least 60 years old, plan to deliver a protest petition of 8,000 signatures to Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office in Richmond, asking Miyares to enforce a 2019 consent decree related to the pipeline’s compliance with environmental rules.

Third Act Virginia and other activists have used protests and social media to highlight what they say are violations of environmental regulations caused by pipeline construction.

Charletta said Tuesday that the company continues to work closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and that all of its environmental permits remain in good standing.

Despite years of opposition, the Mountain Valley Pipeline received a boost this past summer when Congress passed legislation that authorized all outstanding project permits and shielded those permits from legal challenges. That led the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August to dismiss lawsuits over the pipeline’s impact on endangered species and national forests.

A federal lawsuit over the pipeline’s use of eminent domain to seize property from six Southwest Virginia residents remains ongoing. While the Washington, D.C.-based federal appeals court dismissed it earlier this month, the landowners plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time, and two of those landowners have a separate case pending regarding fair compensation for the land that was taken.


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