As battles over two major natural gas pipelines play out in court, state regulators have continued to cite the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline for environmental problems.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has received 19 violation notices from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for failing to comply with the project’s West Virginia/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general water pollution control permit. The violation notices date back to early April, and the most recent was issued in early October, according to the DEP’s database.
The violations happened in several West Virginia counties, including Greenbrier, Harrison and Doddridge. The pipeline is approved to span 303 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia, into Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
In many cases, a DEP inspector visited the site of construction and warned the site operator to take measures to comply with its permit. Then, the inspector wrote up a Notice of Violation, telling developers to provide a written response to the violation within 20 days. The violations don’t come with a monetary penalty.
In the most recent case, an inspector followed up on a citizen complaint in Monroe County and found sediment was flowing off the right-of-way. The inspector, Jason Liddle, issued a Notice of Violation, citing three sections of the permit the pipeline builders had violated. Liddle also wrote that developers had violated state legislative rules governing water quality standards by letting “distinctly visible settleable solids in pond and stream.” Photos that accompany the Notice of Violation show muddy water and sediment deposits.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would also start in northern West Virginia and span 600 miles into North Carolina, has been cited twice for problems in Upshur and Randolph counties. Neither pipeline company responded to inquiries about the violations.
These are the kinds of problems residents feared from the very beginning, said Joan Walker, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.
“Absolutely, we saw it coming,” she said. “There’s no safe way to build these fracked gas pipelines in any terrain, especially in mountainous terrain in West Virginia and Virginia. This is not a surprise, this is what we warned about in hundreds and hundreds of public comments to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], this is what we feared would happen and sadly it’s playing out that way.”
Both pipelines are part of a rush to tap into the region’s Marcellus Shale formation. And though they’re being built by different companies, they’ve followed similar patterns and fielded similar challenges in court.
Over the summer, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management has skirted environmental rules when approving work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. One week later, FERC issued a stop work order.
Then, FERC stopped the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing the 4th Circuit’s order that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service had also sidestepped environmental rules.
In September, a panel of judges on the 4th Circuit heard four back-to-back cases, half about the Mountain Valley Pipeline and half about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In each case, environmental lawyers brought up a similar theme: the pipelines were rushed. In one case, lawyers said the Mountain Valley Pipeline was violating its Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,and the federal appeals court subsequently vacated the permit.
Wednesday afternoon, the same judges ordered a stay to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s water-crossing permit, too.
“That’s why everything is stopping and starting is because the processes were flawed, the permits had such big holes and gaps in them,” Walker said.
In the case of both pipelines, citizens have submitted complaints advising the DEP of spills along the pipelines’ paths.
“Hundreds more [have] been reported by community watchdog folks, so there’d probably be a lot more if the DEP had enough staff to check on those accusations,” Walker said.