Equitrans may still complete Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline by end of 2023

(Reuters) - U.S. energy company Equitrans Midstream Corp said on Tuesday it expects federal agencies to issue the required authorizations for its $6.6-B Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia by the early summer.

That should allow the company to finish the long-delayed project by the end of 2023, however, Equitrans warned in its first quarter earnings that "there remains significant risk and uncertainty, including regarding current and likely litigation."

Mountain Valley - the only big gas pipe under construction in Appalachia - is one of several U.S. pipeline projects delayed by regulatory and legal fights with environmental and local groups. These fights mostly stem from federal permit problems issued during President Donald Trump's administration.

The project is key to unlocking more gas supplies from Appalachia, the nation's biggest shale gas basin.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has vacated several of the projects federal and state permits - some more than once - is still hearing lawsuits by environmental and local groups opposed to the project, including a challenge against authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Equitrans has said it was waiting for new authorizations from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In addition to pursuing permitting the regular way, Equitrans said it "continues to support the potential enactment of federal energy infrastructure permitting reform legislation that specifically requires the completion of the (Mountain Valley) project."

When Mountain Valley construction started in February 2018, Equitrans estimated the 303 mile 2billion bcfd project would cost about $3.5 B and enter service by late 2018.

Equitrans, which owns about 48.1% of Mountain Valley and will operate it, has said the pipeline is nearly 94% complete.

Mountain Valley is owned by units of Equitrans, NextEra Energy Inc, Consolidated Edison Inc, AltaGas Ltd and RGC Resources Inc.

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