Division of Water Resources cites doubts about MVP Mainline project, says construction in NC could cause “unnecessary water quality impacts”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Another natural gas pipeline in North Carolina has been derailed, at least temporarily, as the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has denied a water quality permit for the MVP Southgate project that would route through Rockingham and Alamance counties.
In a letter released this afternoon, Division of Water Resources Director Danny Smith wrote, “Due to uncertainty surrounding the completion of the MVP Mainline project,” it has determined that “work on the Southgate extension could lead to unnecessary water quality impacts and disturbance of the environment in North Carolina.”
Owned by Pittsburgh-based EQM Midstream Partners, MVP Southgate is an extension of the main MVP natural gas pipeline, which starts at a fracked gas operation in northern West Virginia and ends in Chatham, Va.
MVP Southgate would run from Chatham, Va., and enter North Carolina near Eden, in Rockingham County. From there, it would route nearly 50 miles southeast, cutting through Alamance County and ending in Graham. Construction costs are roughly $470 million.
In total, the southern portion would cross 207 streams, three ponds and temporarily affect 17,726 linear feet of streams, 6,538 square feet of open waters, and 14 acres of wetlands; another 0.02 of an acre of wetlands would be permanently damaged. Nearly 14 acres of riparian buffers would also be affected. MVP Southgate would cross the Dan River, home to endangered and threatened species, and Stony Creek Reservoir, the main drinking water supply for the City of Burlington.
The division also denied a Jordan Lake Riparian Buffer Authorization. Such an authorization would be required because the route is within the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed, which includes the Haw River.
MVP Southgate is an extension of the controversial main Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which runs for 303 miles from a fracked gas operation in northern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The mainline has racked up hundreds of environmental violations and prompted state and federal regulators to issue dozens of stop-work orders. Construction on the main line is currently halted, per a FERC stop-work order. That project’s costs have ballooned to $6.2 billion.
“Division staff have determined the Southgate project’s sole utility and purpose is tied to and wholly relies on the completion of the entire Mainline project,” today’s letter reads. “The uncertainty of the MVP Mainline Project’s completion presents a critical risk to the achievability of the fundamental purpose of MVP Southgate,” it continued.
Most of the environmental harm would occur during construction, the division wrote, adding that it “finds it is inappropriate to unnecessarily risk impacting high-quality waters and drinking water supplies of North Carolinians.”
Examples of this harm can be seen in the wake of construction of the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which destroyed miles of private farmland and forests in several North Carolina counties, Policy Watch reported on July 30. It’s yet unclear how those environmental harms will be remedied.
An EQT spokesperson could not be reached this afternoon for comment about the decision and whether the company would appeal.
Crystal Cavalier, a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, is an indigenous activist. MVP Southgate would run through indigenous family lands, she said. There were also questions of whether Indian burial mounds were located near waterways; several were found along the route of the main line.
“This is huge,” Cavalier said. “I’m so excited that North Carolina is taking a stand for indigenous people. Because once you dig up this land, you can’t renew it.”
Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton has co-organized opposition to the MVP Southgate project for more than two years. “We’re so thrilled to hear that DEQ has made the right decision to deny this unnecessary pipeline,” Sutton told Policy Watch. “This pipeline would have destroyed streams and critical habitat throughout the Haw River watershed. This is a win for all of North Carolinians and a step forward in our state’s commitment to limiting our dependence on fossil fuels.”
This is the second time DEQ has denied what’s known as a “401 permit” under the terms of the Clean Water Act. Last year the agency rejected the project application because, after repeatedly asking for information for more than six months, DEQ had not received from MVP Southgate a full accounting of stream crossings and other impacts on waterways. Without the additional information, DEQ couldn’t evaluate the application before a federal deadline,
In previous comments to federal regulators, DEQ doubted the necessity of the project. The western and central Piedmont already has access to existing natural gas pipelines; Dominion Energy would be MVP Southgate’s primary customer.
DEQ’s decision counters those issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC approved the project in February and issued it a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in June. However, even FERC, which rarely reins in natural gas projects, issued the certificate on the condition that the main Mountain Valley Project obtain all necessary permits.
In a separate statement, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said, “Today’s decision to deny the MVP Southgate certification protects North Carolina’s water quality, our natural resources and our communities. DEQ has questioned the need for the MVP Southgate project since our initial comments to FERC. This has always been an unnecessary project that poses unnecessary risks to our environment and given the uncertain future of the MVP Mainline, North Carolinians should not be exposed to the risk of another incomplete pipeline project.
“North Carolina’s clean energy future is not dependent on adding more natural gas infrastructure,” Regan continued. “Projects like this slow down the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases under North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan and our efforts to address climate change under Executive Order 80. We should invest in clean, renewable energy sources and the economic benefits of energy innovation.”
This recent setback for MVP Southgate, coupled with the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last month, have occurred despite actions by the Trump administration to roll back environmental regulations to ease the way for natural gas projects.
On June 1, President Trump signed an executive order to fast-track energy projects like natural gas pipelines, undoing key components of longstanding environmental law. States can no longer consider any factors except water quality in acting on a 401 permit. For example, if DEQ found that the MVP Southgate project would draw down aquifers or reservoirs serving as a drinking water supply — such as Stony Creek Reservoir — that’s a water quantity issue, and could not be considered.
Nor can states cite climate change as a reason to deny a 401 permit.
Natural gas pipelines leak methane, a greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change. The EPA is expected to issue a new rule on methane later this week that weakens environmental protections. Although the exact text of the rule has not been publicly released, The New York Times reported that the EPA will eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies must install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage sites.
Despite the Trump administration’s deregulation, in some cases, court rulings have foiled the EPA. On April 15, the federal District Court for Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permit; although that permit related to the Keystone XL pipeline, the court’s decision had implications for pipeline projects throughout the U.S., including the ACP and the MVP mainline and Southgate pipelines.
In cancelling the ACP, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy cited the court ruling as one reason it was no longer economically or logistically feasible to continue the project.