By Scott DiSavino
(Reuters) – The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a motion to stay a permit for the $5.8-$6.0 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia.
Analysts said that court decision on Wednesday – not to stay the pipeline’s Biological Opinion – increases the odds Equitrans Midstream Corp can put the long-delayed project into service in the second half of 2021.
The Biological Opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows construction in areas inhabited by endangered and threatened species.
Mountain Valley is one of several oil and gas pipelines delayed by regulatory and legal fights with environmental and local groups that found problems with permits issued by the Trump administration.
When Equitrans started construction in February 2018, it estimated Mountain Valley would cost about $3.5 billion and be completed by the end of 2018.
The 303-mile (487.6 km) pipeline was designed to deliver 2 billion cubic feet per day of gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to consumers in the Mid Atlantic and Southeast. One billion cubic feet is enough to supply about 5 million U.S. homes for a day
Analysts said denial of the stay allows Equitrans to continue construction in areas other than the 25-mile (40-km)exclusion zone surrounding the Jefferson National Forest while the court considers the merits of appeals against the Biological Opinion.
Analysts at Height Capital Markets said the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may decide soon to reduce that exclusion zone to 7.7 miles.
Height Capital Markets also said Mountain Valley must begin applying for an individual stream crossing permit in case it loses an ongoing lawsuit against its Nationwide Permit or President-elect Joe Biden’s administration remands the permit, both of which seem probable.
The Nationwide Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows the project to cross waterbodies.
“We continue to have high conviction that the project will be completed, though the Biden administration could delay the ultimate in-service date to 2022,” Height Capital Markets said.
Mountain Valley is owned by units of Equitrans, NextEra Energy Inc, Consolidated Edison Inc, AltaGas Ltd and RGC Resources.
(Reporting By Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy)