Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and proponent of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline that runs from North Central West Virginia to Chatham, Va., praised a Friday order by FERC ‘progressing’ the pipeline’s construction.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has blasted changes in policy enacted by the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

The federal body that grants permission for natural gas pipelines and other energy projects updated its policy for the first time in 23 years this week, and increased the attention paid to rights of landowners, environmental impacts and climate change.

Manchin, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was quick to respond.

“Today’s (Thursday) reckless decision by FERC’s Democratic Commissioners puts the security of our nation at risk,” he said. “The commission went too far by prioritizing a political agenda over their main mission — ensuring our nation’s energy reliability and security. The only thing they accomplished today was constructing additional road blocks that further delay building out the energy infrastructure our country desperately needs. Energy independence is our greatest geopolitical and economic tool and we cannot lose sight of that as instability rises around the globe.”

With the changes, gas pipeline reviews will consider a project’s effect on climate change, look at a wider set of impacts on landowners and environmental justice communities, and scrutinize the economic need related to the public.

“I believe today’s long overdue policy statements are essential to ensuring the Commission’s natural gas siting decisions are reflective of all stakeholder concerns and interests,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said in a statement. “We have witnessed the impact on pipeline projects when federal agencies, including the Commission, fail to fulfill their statutory responsibilities assessing the potential effects of a project on the environment, landowners and communities. If we are going to ensure legal durability of our orders, it is essential that the Commission satisfy its statutory obligations the first time. I’m proud of these policy statements because they provide a forward-looking declaration on how the Commission intends to execute its authority to consider proposed infrastructure projects in a manner that is responsive both to all the interests at stake and to the direction of the courts.”.

Complaints about how FERC handles pipeline approvals surfaced in this region during the last several years related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a large 42-inch diameter pipe will run from fracking operations in central West Virginia to Chatham, Va., cutting across Summers and Monroe counties in West Virginia and Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties in Virginia.

The pipeline, which is about 90 percent complete, has been delayed by protests and lawsuits, with the latest setback coming earlier this month when the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va. invalidated approvals previously granted by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to construct the pipeline on federal land.

That includes Jefferson National Forest, which the MVP must pass through in Monroe and Giles Counties, with a total of about 3.5 miles on federal land involved.

The pipeline was initially scheduled to be in operation by 2018 at a total construction cost of $3.5 billion.

But the in-service date has now been moved to 2023 with the price tag estimated to be more than $6 billion.

According to an article in The Roanoke Times, during the last few years MVP has been cited nearly 400 times with violating state regulations meant to limit erosion and sedimentation.

The article also said that Manchin is pushing for the pipeline to be completed.

“It has run into court case after court case after court case,” Manchin said in a recording posted to the committee’s website, according to the article. “This product needs to get to market.”

One of the initial complaints about the MVP was a perceived lack of thoroughness by FERC before issuing permits for the pipeline, and the agency was portrayed as “rubber-stamping” projects.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th District-Va., expressed his own dissatisfaction with FERC during a 2019 interview about the MVP.

“I am not against pipelines in general,” he said. “But I am frustrated with FERC and the process.”

Griffith said EQT, the Pittsburgh-based energy company behind the MVP, “has not done the things they ought to have done to prepare and inform the community.”

For example, he said technology is available to cover pipes with a foam to detect leaks, as well as lay fiber optic cable on top to monitor activities around the pipe, including temperature and any movement.

“The technology is out there,” he said. “Why aren’t they using that?

Griffith is also concerned about the diameter of the pipe, which is larger than usual.

“Explosions don’t happen often, but if I lived near a pipeline I would want that technology,” he said. “I don’t know why FERC has not insisted on it.”

Another issue, he said, is disturbing land.

“I have some concern about karst,” he said, referring to underground sinkholes and caves, common to many areas in the region.

Griffith said the appropriate geological studies should have been done to determine any potential detrimental impact.

“”I don’t feel comfortable that has necessarily happened,” he said, adding that he also concerned about the MVP’s impact on the unique wetland area of Bent Mountain near Roanoke. “I am very nervous about that.”

Griffith said he was “torn on the issue.”

“I know we need gas pipelines on the (energy) grid and a redundancy for power sources,” he said. “But it (the MVP) causes me great concern. If I were on FERC, I would not approve it at this time.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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