The developer of a planned 71-mile extension into North Carolina of the long-embattled Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline gained federal approval on Dec. 19 to extend its construction through 2026. Ten days later, it told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the line miles now will be reduced by more than half, but the project needed until 2028 to complete. 

Equitrans Midstream Corp., said in a letter to the agency that recently completed negotiations with two utilities required a redesign of the Southgate project—to reduce its North Carolina length to 31 miles and eliminate a compressor station whose permit was denied by Virginia regulators in 2021. 

The developer of the 303-mile Mountain Valley pipeline also said it is set to finish that project's construction in the first quarter. The line, which runs from Utica shale fields in West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Va., last year gained a Congressional mandate in the federal debt ceiling law to finish construction, with work also supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a lower court halt in an opponent group lawsuit. 

The developer reported total project cost now is $7.2 billion.

Related to the Southgate extension—which was not included in automatic regulatory approvals granted under the law to the Mountain Valley line—the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality also rejected two requests for a state water permit because of “unnecessary and avoidable impacts to surface waters and riparian buffers,” it said. 

The extension's new design would “substantially” reduce required water crossings, said Equitrans Midstream, with its projected cost at $370 million, down from a previous $468-million estimate. The developer has estimated about $10.4 million in tax revenue during construction and about $4.6 million during operation.

Targeted for 2028

The final scope, route and schedule of the redesigned Southgate will be completed after Equitrans Midstream seeks additional offtake agreements. The company said it is evaluating project permit requirements and a potential updated completion date. Among other approvals, the project needs federal clean water permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“At the appropriate time, the MVP Southgate team intends to pursue all necessary permits and authorizations to complete construction,” a company spokesperson said.

Opponents are not content with the scaled back plan. “We continue to see no need for this project,” Caroline Hansley, a Sierra Club senior field organizer, told ENR. “Because of these drastic changes, [the commission] must rescind the current certification for the Southgate extension.” 

Supporters see the project as needed for state energy security, but it is not favored by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D). 

In a Dec. 29, 2023 filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Equitrans Midstream said Southgate’s targeted completion is mid-2028, with most capital investment to occur in 2027. 

The firm is “evaluating the permitting and regulatory roadmap for the project, including requesting an updated completion due date,” it told the agency. A Southgate spokesman said last July that TRC Solutions Inc. has been involved in project engineering, but no general contractor or construction start date was set.

Equitrans Midstream told the energy commission that Mountain Valley construction made significant progress in its fall 2023 construction. Work resumed in August after court-ordered delays. As of late November, crews completed an added 11 miles of pipe welding, including 3,316 tie-in welds, with about 10.4 miles left.  

Construction is finished at two of nine major bore locations with 65% of combined total bore lengths completed. “All major boring operations are expected to be complete by mid-January,” the company said. One of three compressor stations has been commissioned. The workforce, peaking at about 4,800 in mid-November, now is about 1,500.