Just weeks after ordering a temporary halt to construction of part of the Rover Pipeline in Doddridge County, West Virginia inspectors discovered more water pollution violations at Rover construction operations in two other counties, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act.
Department of Environmental Protection inspectors found the violations of state water quality rules at Rover construction sites in Hancock and Marshall counties and issued a notice of violation at each site, according to the records.
DEP inspection reports indicate the agency found that some erosion control devices were not in place, that other sediment controls were incorrectly installed, and that mud and dirt from the pipeline work had left the construction sites and entered streams, in violation of West Virginia water quality standards. The company had not reseeded some areas where seeding had failed to germinate adequately, the DEP found.
DEP inspectors discovered the problems during a July 25 inspection of the New Cumberland site and a visit to the Majorsville site on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.
State inspections in Hancock and Marshall counties were done in the wake of DEP’s action on July 17 to issue a “cease-and-desist” order to Rover Pipeline LLC after finding repeated water pollution violations at pipeline construction sites in Doddridge County during five different inspections in April, May, June and July. DEP lifted that order on Aug. 9, but the agency has refused to comment further on the matter.
Rover is a 714-mile pipeline from Michigan into Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It is meant to transport natural gas from processing plants in West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to pipeline interconnects in West Virginia and eastern Ohio, as well as to a hub near Defiance, Ohio, where up to 68 percent of the gas will be delivered to distribution markets across the U.S.
Alexis Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Rover Pipeline and its owner, Energy Transfer Partners, said that the company was aware of the DEP citations, which she said were “for activities that occurred during the recent flooding” in Northern West Virginia in late July.
“We continue to work with the West Virginia DEP to resolve these issues in a manner that is satisfactory to all parties,” Daniel said in an email. “Construction continues all across the route.”
In their inspection reports, DEP officials did not blame the violations on flooding. One inspection report notes that a stream at one of the sites was “a major contributor to flooding” the previous week. Another report mentions that there had been heavy rains in the area the previous week.
The water pollution problems related to construction of Rover come as citizen groups are raising serious concerns about water pollution threats as part of a legal challenge to DEP’s approval of a permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, one of a flurry of natural gas pipeline projects proposed for the region as part of the boom in drilling in the Marcellus Shale fields in the northern part of the state. MVP is a more than 300-mile pipeline from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates attorneys, representing the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups, are contesting DEP Secretary Austin Caperton’s refusal to hold an administrative appeal hearing on Caperton’s issuance of a permit in which DEP certified that the MVP project would not violate the state’s water quality standards.
In response to public concerns about potential water quality violations from the pipeline, DEP assured citizens that the MVP project would use Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plans and procedures and have project-specific erosion and sediment control plans, along with a DEP stormwater permit.
DEP made similar assurances when it approved the Rover Pipeline. But in citing the repeated violations on Rover’s construction, DEP inspectors reported both that the developers violated their stormwater control plans and that those plans “proved to be ineffective for achieving the general objectives of controlling pollutants.”
In a legal brief filed last week, those attorneys warned that the same thing could happen with the MVP project.
Among other things, citizen group lawyer Derek Teaney noted that a FERC report on the MVP project revealed that the pipeline would “disturb about 4,189 acres of soils that are classified as having the potential for severe water erosion.” FERC further reported that more than 150 miles of the project’s route through West Virginia is “considered to have a high incidence of and high susceptibility to landslides.”
Also, Teaney told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which is hearing the challenge of Caperton’s permit issuance — that the record before Caperton was “replete with evidence that industry-standard erosion and sediment control practices had failed spectacularly in the Appalachian region in recent history.”
For example, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition warned DEP during the public comment period on the MVP permit of at least five instances between 2006 and 2014 in which natural gas pipeline construction “resulted in violations of water quality standards due to slope failures, notwithstanding reliance on and compliance with state-of-the-art sediment and erosion controls.”
“Despite being confronted with evidence that sedimentation would occur even with strict implementation of those controls and despite calls for it to do so, DEP made no effort to quantify sedimentation that would result from the pipeline’s construction and operation in upland areas,” Teaney wrote in the citizen group brief. “Moreover, DEP conducted no independent evaluation of documented instances in which state-of-the-art erosion and sediment controls had failed to prevent water quality standards violations related to natural gas pipeline construction. In that way, DEP arbitrarily and capriciously ignored important aspects of the question presented to it and explained its decision in a manner contrary to the evidence before it.”
When Caperton, a former coal executive and energy consultant, approved the MVP project permit, he issued a press release that referred the media to the company’s website for “information about the potential economic benefit” of the pipeline. When Caperton refused to hold an administrative appeal hearing on the permit, he announced the move in a two-paragraph letter that provided no explanation for his decision.
DEP received more than 2,400 pages of comments — and held public hearings that produced 150 pages of transcripts — concerning the MVP permit application. But the agency brushed aside concerns about the project with a seven-page letter. The citizen group legal brief said that the DEP response was so “scant” and was of such “surprising brevity” that it would qualify under the law as an “arbitrary and capricious” decision on an issue that does “not lend itself to brief analysis.”
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.