MVP Southgate natural gas project could revive previous eminent domain claims on private land
Pipeline owners had sued landowners in Alamance, Rockingham counties, then dropped the cases last fall
This map, filed with FERC, shows the proposed route of the MVP Southgate project and the environmental justice communities along the way. (Map: FERC)
Last October, the 155 or so landowners living in the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate project were able to relax for the first time in more than four years. MVP, LLC, the primary owner of the Southgate and main gas pipeline project, dropped its eminent domain cases in federal court, the viability of the project then in doubt.
Federal court documents from the eminent domain cases show that MVP, LLC had tried to wrest 303 acres — some in the form of temporary easements, others permanent — for the Southgate pipeline, access roads, and rights-of-way.
Perry Slade, who would have lost more than eight acres in Alamance County to the pipeline, had watched as those around her voluntarily agreed to sell easements on their land. Had everyone stuck together and forced MVP’s hand, she said, they could have at worst, delayed, and at best, thwarted the project. “I thought, ‘How are my neighbors deserting me?'” Slade said at a meeting hosted by the Haw River Assembly last month. “My husband is calm. But I’m the type to pace the floor at midnight.”
Then after a court hearing, the prospect of Slade’s land — in her family for seven generations being forcibly taken for a financial pittance — evaporated.
But now the Southgate project is again in play, and with it, more legal entanglements, arguments for and against, and potentially a revival of the eminent domain cases.
The MVP Southgate Project would start in Chatham, Virginia, and enter North Carolina in Eden, in Rockingham County. From there, the natural gas pipeline would continue roughly 46 miles southeast, ending near Haw River in Alamance County. In total, it 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.
It originally was scheduled to be finished and in service this month, but construction hasn’t started, nor has it received the necessary state permits, such as those covering water quality and sedimentation and erosion. The pipeline owners recently asked federal energy regulators to grant them a three-year extension to finish.
The Southgate project is an extension of the main Mountain Valley Pipeline project, a 303-mile line that starts at a fracked gas facility in West Virginia and winds through environmentally sensitive terrain in Virginia. Once thought dead because of delays related to legal challenges, ballooning costs now topping $6.5 billion, and more than 200 environmental permit violations, the main MVP was jolted to life by a controversial provision in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which prevented the federal government from defaulting on its debts.
Landowners who reached settlements with MVP Southgate without eminent domain are also stuck. In recent written comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, landowner Melissa Hairston wrote that the settlements allowed MVP Southgate to use land for temporary construction easements, based on the original pipeline completion deadlines. With a three-year extension, these landowners are legally restricted from most uses of those easements through 2026.
“This will place an unfair and unwarranted financial loss to affected property owners by tying up land for the extended time that MVP requires for temporary construction easements,” Hairston wrote. “MVP’s request for an extension of the completion date in effect constitutes a unilateral attempt by MVP to change the settlement terms without the agreement of Landowners.”
Hairston wrote that if FERC grants the extension, MVP should pay rent for the easement for each year or partial year that the pipeline extends beyond its original completion date of 2023. “Such rent should be on a per acre basis in amounts commensurate with the actual and reasonable potential loss to the Landowner resulting from the extension,” Hairston wrote.
Ironically, two parties fighting eminent domain are existing pipeline owners — Transco and Cardinal — which already have easements on 19 properties in Alamance County, according to court documents. (Transco has filed a request with FERC to be a legal intervenor in MVP Southgate’s time-extension proceeding.)
Federal maps show that Transco and Cardinal pipelines — plus a small segment of the East Tennessee Spectra line — already cross parts of Rockingham and Alamance Counties.
Pipeline supporters argue these existing lines aren’t enough to meet North Carolina demand. Twenty-eight Republican North Carolina state senators signed a letter to FERC supporting the project, citing the need for a second interstate pipeline as “critical to our state’s security.” (As evidence, they cited the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack in 2021, although that dealt with gasoline not natural gas.)
However, it’s unclear if the gas from the MVP projects would remain in North Carolina. Transco told Reuters and NC Newsline that it has the capacity to ship gas from the MVP projects to “high-demand markets.” Since Transco’s pipeline extends from the Gulf of Mexico northeast to New York, those “high-demand markets” could be elsewhere.
And, as opponents point out, at least some of the support appears to be self-dealing. PSNC, itself is a gas distribution company and subsidiary of Dominion, recently filed comments in support of the MVP Southgate time extension.
PSNC’s history with MVP Southgate began in late 2018 when it bought a 30% stake in the project, then sold its stake four months later, according to the Marcellus Drilling newsletter. Coincidentally, the sale occurred shortly after Dominion bought PSNC and made it an indirect subsidiary. Dominion is expected to be an anchor shipper for the MVP Southgate project, with PSNC also a beneficiary.
The existing pipelines and their connections to other parts of the state and beyond, show that MVP Southgate is unnecessary, pipeline opponents say. When FERC approved MVP Southgate in 2020, “economic analysis indicated that existing gas infrastructure was more than sufficient to meet regional energy demand,” wrote the groups 7 Directions of Service, the POWHR Coalition and Appalachian Voices in their recent comments to FERC, asking that it deny the time extension request.
“Since then, the domestic and regional demand for natural gas has fallen, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Other projects, such as the Atlantic Sunrise expansion, have provided sufficient additional capacity to end users in the same region. The gas capacity that Southgate could provide will be underutilized and less financially viable than existing supply.”
Two Democratic members of Congress from North Carolina, U.S. Reps. Valerie Foushee, whose district includes Alamance, Orange, Durham, Person and Granville counties, and Kathy Manning, representing Guilford and Rockingham counties, also filed comments critical of MVP Southgate. They called FERC’s original determination that the project is needed “woefully outdated.”
They cited the historic Inflation Reduction Act, making billions of federal dollars available for residential and commercial alternatives to natural gas use. “In light of this sea change, the Commission cannot—and indeed must not—merely fall back on its now stale prior determination that MVP Southgate is needed.”
New to the MVP Southgate issue? Need a refresher? Read NC Newsline’s previous coverage.
The five-year saga of MVP Southgate
- Spring – Land agents hired by MVP, LLC begin contacting property owners to determine who would be open to selling a portion of their land for pipeline easements.
- Summer – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds public meetings about the MVP Southgate plan.
- November – MVP formally applies to FERC for authorization to build the Southgate project.
- June – NC Department of Environmental Quality denies water quality permit for the Southgate project because its application is incomplete.
- June – FERC approves Southgate project.
- August – DEQ again denies water quality permit over environmental concerns; MVP sues in federal court.
- June – Federal court determines DEQ acted legally in denying water quality permit. MVP sues 85 landowners in federal court in an attempt to take portions of their property by eminent domain.
- August – FERC agrees to require MVP to suspend using eminent domain to take land.
- October – MVP drops the eminent domain cases.
- January – Several environmental groups sue FERC in federal court, arguing it failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of the project and acted capriciously in approving the MVP Southgate profit margin.
- June – Federal court finds in favor of FERC.
- June – MVP files a request with FERC seeking an extension of time to complete the Southgate project, originally scheduled to begin operating this month. If FERC grants the request, MVP would have until June 2026 to start shipping gas through the Southgate pipeline.
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