Federal regulators have approved parts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline's plan to stabilize areas of the pipeline's route that are under construction and ensure that work already in progress does not become an environmental liability.
The document, mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after it halted all construction of the 303-mile pipeline earlier this month, drew criticism from environmental groups that said the plan effectively greenlights continued pipeline construction.
FERC stopped all construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on Aug. 3 following a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, except in cases where it might be necessary to stabilize areas with ongoing construction such as right of ways.
The plan, released Thursday, lays out a variety of actions the pipeline intends to take to comply with environmental standards. They include filling some dug trenches with dirt and seeding steep slopes to temporarily stabilize some areas already under construction.
In a letter issued Friday evening, Terry Turpin, director of FERC's Office of Energy Projects, told pipeline developers to move forward with the approved measures.
"As indicated in your plan, the shutdown presents challenges for stabilization and restoration, and we agree that there are some clear advantages to allowing some limited construction activities to proceed to prevent potential safety and environmental impacts," the letter stated.
The majority of the plan's suggestions were accepted. Most of the "pending" measures are related to how to stabilize steep slopes.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups say the pipeline’s stabilization plan effectively allows the developers to complete construction across a total of 45 miles of its route.
“Bless their hearts, but not in a million years,” Sierra Club Virginia chapter director Kate Addleson said in a statement.
According to the document, developers said they intend to install the pipeline and close the trench for 26 miles of the MVP’s route where trench has already been dug and pipe is ready to go. FERC approved this measure.
In a letter submitted to the agency, the Indian Creek Watershed Association also expressed concerns with the pipeline's stabilization plan and urged the agency to reject it.
“This is a ploy by MVP/EQT that has little to do with environmental protection and much to do with convenience and economic benefit to the company,” the Union, W. Va.-based group wrote. “MVP seeks to install 45 miles of pipe during an official “stop work” period — more than four times the 11 miles of pipe
MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an emailed statement that the project's priorities have always been to construct the pipeline in the "safest manner possible and ensure "the highest levesl of enviromental protections.
"We are pleased that the FERC appreciates MVP’s desire to uphold our environmental responsibilities by allowing the project to stabilize the right-of-way and to take certain measures to minimize unnecessary erosion and sedimentation occurrences as we work with the agencies to resolve the issues related to the August 3, 2018 stop work order," she wrote.
08/10/18: This story was updated at 9:15 p.m. to include a statement from the Mountain Valley Pipeline and reflect FERC's decision to approve parts of the project's stabilization plan.