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MVP contractor tied to pipeline cited for environmental violations

Mountain Valley Pipeline map

Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed route

A construction company working on a natural gas pipeline that recently was accused of violating environmental standards also will work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Precision Pipeline, a Wisconsin-based construction company, will work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is still in its nascent stages. It has been working on the Rover Pipeline, which is nearing completion.

Rover Pipeline LLC was issued a cease-and-desist order from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for 14 water-quality violations in Doddridge, Tyler and Wetzel counties, ranging from leaving trash and construction debris partially buried on the construction site, to improperly installing a perimeter control.

The cease-and-desist is addressed to Rover Pipeline LLC and doesn’t address Precision’s involvement in construction, but critics of the pipeline said Precision’s reputation is tainted by its involvement in projects that break the rules. Precision Pipeline did not answer calls requesting information about the scope of the company’s involvement in these other projects.

“If they’re being this careless with Rover, what makes them think they’ll be any more careful with MVP pipeline, which is scheduled to go over steep terrain and remote areas? It just feels like we can’t trust them,” said Bill Price, organizing manager for the Sierra Club in the Appalachian region.

Precision Pipeline, based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was identified as one of the three contractors assigned to the Mountain Valley Pipeline during a preliminary injunction hearing in the Southern District of West Virginia, in which Mountain Valley Pipeline developers sued landowners over easement through eminent domain rights.

The case played out in two other federal courthouses, in the Northern District of West Virginia and Western District of Virginia, and district court judges ultimately granted approval for the $3.7 billion, 303-mile-long natural gas pipeline that would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Precision was carefully selected and evaluated for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, spokeswoman Natalie Cox said in an email. She said MVP would hold contractors accountable during construction with an “extremely high level of external oversight and monitoring” and that the project would be stringently monitored by the federal, state and local agencies.

“We value the safety of our employees, contractors, and every single person that lives in these communities, and one of our primary goals remains the preservation and protection of the environment, as well as the protection of sensitive species and cultural and historic resources,” Cox said.

That cease-and-desist, issued March 5, was the second the Rover Pipeline received over the span of a year — the DEP cited pipeline developers for similar water pollution violations in July 2017. In April 2017, Ohio regulators turned their attention to the pipeline after construction workers spilled more than 2 gallons of drilling fluid there.

When it’s completed, Rover will span 713 miles and deliver natural gas to processing plants in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Rover Pipeline, would not discuss which companies were involved on the pipeline but said the project is about 99 percent complete. Precision Pipeline’s website lists the Rover Pipeline as one of its projects, and Precision is listed as a contractor in lawsuits in which Rover Pipeline is a defendant, including a case in the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, in which the state of Ohio alleged that Rover had “illegally discharged drilling fluid into Ohio’s waters while constructing the Rover Pipeline.”

Precision Pipeline’s website also lists the Stonewall pipeline as one of its projects. In 2015, Stonewall Gas Gathering LLC was issued a $106,050 fine from the West Virginia DEP for a series of violations in Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis and Braxton counties.

Since 2008, Precision Pipelines LLC has faced 11 Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations and nearly $71,565 in penalties for water-, sewer- and pipeline-related violations, one of which came after a flatbed truck with 24,000 pounds of gas pipe spun out of control at the bottom of a steep hill, hitting a parked car and a van, which then hit an ATV and bulldozer, ultimately injuring seven workers, according to OSHA reports.

About a month later, Precision Pipeline faced scrutiny from OSHA again after a pipe section fell on a man working on a gas excavation project, knocking him into a trench and killing him.

John Wells has spent his career in pipeline construction, first as a welder and now as an inspector, although never on any jobs with Rover or Precision. In his experience, he said, construction companies normally cease work in the winter, and avoid problems by doing so. When companies are up against tight deadlines, they cut corners, compromising workplace and environmental safety, Wells said.

“Chasing a dollar. That’s the name of the game. Produce as cheap and quick as possible, with as few casualties as you can stand,” he said.

Plus, it matters where the company is based, Wells said.

“Precision is based in Wisconsin, in flatland country. They have some experienced people working for them, but they’re not that experienced working in this kind of terrain,” he said. “You need to have your very best person on a project in West Virginia or else you’re going to have problems.”

He urged state regulators to issue monetary fines when companies break the rules.

“My biggest question was: Did the DEP issue any fines, and if so, how much were they?” Wells said. “The order amounts to very little to deter Rover until the violation is accompanied by a stiff fine.”

Reach Kate Mishkin at kate.mishkin@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @katemishkin on Twitter.

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Childers, Margaret - 1:30 p.m., Ravenswood Cemetery.

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