Paul Friedman

Paul Friedman, a project manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, chats in the hallway at Eastern Montgomery High School before a Mountain Valley Pipeline scoping meeting on May 5, 2015.

A partner in the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline confirmed this week that natural gas transported by the pipeline could be one supply source for liquefied natural gas bound for India.

The news comes after Paul Friedman, a project manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, repeatedly — and publicly — dismissed concerns last month from pipeline opponents that natural gas transported through the pipeline would be exported.

WGL Midstream has a 7 percent ownership interest in the Mountain Valley project, a joint venture that also includes EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and Vega Midstream MVP. In December, WGL announced it has a sales agreement to export natural gas to India via Dominion’s Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas facility in Maryland. Vega Midstream helped negotiate the deal.

In an email Wednesday, Ruben Rodriguez, a spokesman for WGL, reported that most of the natural gas bound for India will be supplied by a company that is a major player in natural gas activities in the Appalachian Basin.

But Rodriguez added that natural gas from the Mountain Valley Pipeline could be part of the supply portfolio for exports to India.

“However, that supply portfolio will be determined at a later time, based on market conditions and other existing supply opportunities,” he said.

In May, Friedman’s unequivocal declarations discounting the prospect of natural gas exports by Mountain Valley stirred loud retorts in Lindside, West Virginia, and similar reactions the next night in Elliston.

Friedman’s opening remarks during all six public meetings held by FERC last month included some variation on the following: “There is a false rumor going around that natural gas from this project would be exported. This is not true.”

Pipeline opponents already contend that Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a private company, should not have access to eminent domain to condemn private property for pipeline route rights-of-way. That some of the gas might be exported simply adds insult to injury, they say.

Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, defended Friedman’s remarks. She said his comments were based on filings at that time by Mountain Valley, which is in the pre-filing phase with FERC, a process that initiates the approval process for the $3.2 billion project.

In turn, Bill Wolf, an organizer of Preserve Craig County, said Friedman’s comments fit a pattern.

“This is yet another example of conflicting information about the MVP project that may be seen as a pattern of disinformation,” he said. “It would be helpful if our own government agency would serve the public interest, slow down the process and sort out the facts.”

Wolf said Preserve Craig’s questions about potential exports were not answered during an open house in Craig County.

“At the scoping meetings it seemed out of line for the FERC project manager to be refuting public comments by emphatically saying this project is not for export,” he said.

Friedman said last month that Young-Allen had directed him not to speak to the media.

‘This will not happen’

During a May 12 meeting in Weston, West Virginia, Friedman repeated his observations that rumors about potential exports were false.

“This will not happen, and I’ll explain why: Mountain Valley has not applied to either the FERC or the U.S. Department of Energy for permission to export natural gas. Without those applications and our permission, they cannot export natural gas,” Friedman said, according to an official transcript.

Young-Allen acknowledged, however, that Mountain Valley or its customers could apply for export permits after the project receives a certificate of public convenience and necessity from FERC. The certificate would allow construction to begin on the 300-mile, 42-inch diameter pipeline.

Wil and Angela Stanton helped organize Preserve the New River Valley and have been active in efforts to halt the pipeline. As envisioned, it could pass through the Virginia counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin en route to the Transco pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

In a filing with FERC, the Stantons suggested that although Friedman’s remarks might have been “technically true,” they felt his comments were misleading. They noted that two of the four partners in the Mountain Valley project “are working in cooperation with each other to export liquefied natural gas from the United States to India.”

Dominion has said it will spend $3.4 billion to $3.8 billion on the company’s Cove Point LNG export facility, where exports are expected to begin in late 2017.

Mountain Valley representatives have emphasized that the natural gas transported through the pipeline will serve domestic markets that are expanding in part due to increased use of natural gas for generating electricity.

Natalie Cox, a Mountain Valley spokeswoman, said Wednesday that she couldn’t comment on WGL operations.

“MVP’s primary goal has always been to deliver gas from the Marcellus and Utica [shale] to the growing demand markets along the east coast, and where feasible to communities along the route,” Cox said. “Because MVP does not own title to the gas being transported, it would be disingenuous for us to say that we have control over what happens with the gas once it reaches Transco station 165 in Virginia.”

Public benefit?

Mara Robbins, Virginia coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, recently discovered the potential export link negotiated by partners in the Mountain Valley project.

“Using eminent domain to steamroll these kinds of projects is reprehensible and one of the worst forms of fraud ever perpetrated upon the American people,” Robbins said.

“It is clear that the Mountain Valley Pipeline must be stopped and the corporations proposing it do not have the public interest in mind,” she said.

The Stantons’ FERC filing expressed similar thoughts.

“The exportation of gas from the Mountain Valley Pipeline shows that there is not enough of a public benefit to justify the environmental damage associated with this pipeline and to force the application of eminent domain on properties along the proposed path,” the Stantons wrote.

Pipeline proponents, however, have said that liquid natural gas exports could benefit the nation. According to the American Petroleum Institute, such exports “will significantly reduce our trade deficit, increase government revenues, grow the economy and support millions of U.S. jobs in engineering, manufacturing, construction, and facility operations.”

During the May 4 scoping meeting in Lindside, a person in the crowd attempted to ask a question after Friedman dismissed as a “false rumor” the reports of exports.

“Do all the companies ...” the questioner began, responding to Friedman in a loud voice.

Friedman interrupted.

“Please do not shout out or I will have to ask you to leave,” he said.

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