Category Archives: Citizen Surveillance

Detecting Water Quality Impacts: Public Showing of Webinar

Many of your neighbors in Nelson recently tuned in to a webinar (web-based seminar) about how citizens can help monitor pipeline construction. If we can identify and report construction problems quickly we can take action to protect our lands and waters.

Volunteers watching streams they know and care about is an important component of the Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) coordinated by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. It’s not a major volunteer commitment, but it is an important one. No one knows our streams and land like we do!

If you’d like to learn how to detect and report water quality impacts from natural gas pipelines, we’ll be screening the webinar again at the Nelson County Public Library on Thursday, March 22, 7-8:30 PM.

ABRA Asks for CSI Help

A March 13, 2018, message from Lew Freeman, Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), for those who attended the March 3, 2018, ABRA’s Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI) – and to those who were unable to attend:

Many thanks to those of you who attended the March 3 meeting we held at the Staunton Holiday Inn to unveil details of ABRA’s Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI). We are very encouraged by the response of those attending the meeting to the program. For those of you who registered but were unable to attend the meeting, I include you in this follow-up email because of your expressed interest in the CSI program.

Our legal challenges to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) continue vigorously, as evidenced by the report in last Friday’s ABRA Update of law suits filed last Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals to halt construction of the ACP. ABRA Update is the main way in which we will stay in touch with you and others about the CSI program. (For those of you who have not been on ABRA’s mailing list, you may subscribe here to the weekly ABRA Updates.)

In the meantime, tree felling has begun and ground-disturbing activity could commence by April. We must be ready to monitor the construction of the ACP to assure that violations of permit conditions and environmental regulations are noticed and reported to proper regulatory authorities. [See, for example, the Pipeline CSI Incident Report for March 13, 2018, on the Friends of Nelson Web page.] To do that, WE NEED YOUR HELP AND INVOLVEMENT! Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Sign up as a CSI volunteer. This can be easily done at Do it today! And, urge your friends and colleagues who care about preserving the environmental integrity of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge region to become a CSI volunteer.
  2. Visit and use the CSI website as a resource for important background information on the program: 
  3. When you see an incident associated with ACP construction you believe could be a violation of permit conditions or regulations, report it to the ABRA hotline at 1-877-Go2ABRA (1-877-462-2272) or send an email to
  4. Stay abreast of all pipeline developments (including the MVP and other projects) by regularly reading ABRA Update and visiting our Facebook page, where new developments are reported several times a day (
  5. Finally, if you have questions, feel free to call Lew Freeman: 540-468-2769.

Thanks again for your interest and forthcoming participation in ABRA’s CSI program. It cannot succeed with out YOU!

Pipeline CSI Incident Report

Apparent equipment staging area and new or reconstructed road and bridges observed during Pipeline Air Force surveillance flights. (3/11/18)

The Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative is already at work, and has filed an initial inquiry into apparent unauthorized access road and staging area construction in the MP158 area, the Augusta County Horizontal Direction Drilling area. Observations were made and photographs were obtained that indicate apparent noncompliance with restrictions against earth disturbance and construction prior to receipt of required approvals by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In addition, road construction and equipment-staging-area construction appears to have occurred that was not described in project descriptions provided in permit applications to these agencies. Inquiries and requests for clarification will be submitted to the DEQ and to FERC. Later Pipeline CSI reports will provide agency responses.

For more information, see Initial Incident Report

NBC29 posted excellent news coverage of the CSI on March 13, 2018.  Michael Godfrey is a veteran of the Air Force and is now one of 10 pilots flying over the valley’s mountainous terrain on behalf of the Pipeline Air Force.  “All environmental enforcement is dependent on the local citizenry being observant, aware, concerned,” says Godfrey.

Pipeline Visual Assessment Program Webinar

Sign up for a Webinar on this volunteer program.

The Volunteer Pipeline Visual Assessment Program was developed by Trout Unlimited (TU) and West Virginia Rivers Coalition to support and train volunteer citizen observers to identify, document and report pollution incidents associated with large-scale pipeline development.

Through these webinars, you will learn about erosion control best management practices used in pipeline development, specific examples of pollution to look for, and how to best document those problems. After the webinar, you will be able to report pollution incidents to TU and WV Rivers.

To participate in the program, please register for one of the free webinar trainings. Space is limited. 

Register for the webinar in the state you plan to monitor:

VA Specific Webinar: Tuesday, March 13th — 7:00pm-8:30pm. Register here.
WV Specific Webinar: Tuesday, March 27th — 7:00pm-8:30pm. Register here.

For more information, please contact Jake Lemon, TU’s Eastern Angler Science Coordinator, at

Notes from the CSI Meeting

On March 3, 2018, in Staunton, over one hundred pipeline opponents from VA, WV and NC heard experts convened by ABRA review the legal cases against the ACP and MVP and learn about the Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI).

First, attorneys David Sligh (Wild Virginia), Joe Lovett and Ben Luckett (Appalachian Mountain Advocates), and Greg Buppert (SELC) brought us up to date on the numerous lawsuits they have filed. Sligh described our attorneys’ “broad attack on the certificates of public convenience and necessity” issued by FERC and followed by other federal agencies as well as state and local agencies/boards. Lovett reviewed the legal actions challenging the pipelines under the Clean Water Act, noting that the VA DEQ issued its certificate improperly and WVA should, by WV law, review each water body crossing individually. Luckett focused on the litigation against federal agencies under the Natural Gas act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The majority of the meeting was devoted to the CSI. Project leader Rick Webb of the DPMC gave an overview of the program. Since it’s clear that the pipelines’ backers will push ahead relentlessly and have cultivated strong political support, we need to activate a “Plan B” even as “Plan A–stop both pipelines”–continues to play out. The goal of Plan B is to do everything we can to hold ACP and MVP accountable for the inevitable damages and predictable violations (based on other pipeline projects) that will occur.

Webb pointed out that CSI is aimed at providing reliable information to guide decision makers and inform legal actions, and not to engage in confrontations. To the extent possible, CSI will work with governmental agencies toward a two-way flow of information, and those working relationships are already in progress. Every effort will be made to assure that all monitoring is fully within legal guidelines.

CSI elements include:

  • A digital sampling system that will allow citizen-generated monitoring data to be rapidly entered, catalogued, and shared
  • The Pipeline Air force comprising both manned fixed-wing airplanes and drones
  • Stream monitoring
  • Karst dye tracing

Kirk Bowers (Sierra Club) reviewed the CSI’s erosion and sedimentation monitoring plans. When (not if) problems occur, it is within VA DEQ’s purview to issue stop work orders.

Jeff Shingleton reviewed the plans for the Pipeline Air Force. These are private citizens operating their own airplanes. With high resolution cameras they can document failures of erosion control devices, muddy streams downriver from construction, and other violations. He showed pictures he had taken that showed very clearly problems caused by the Stonewall Gathering project.

Ben Cunningham (Friends of Nelson) talked about his efforts to build a drone monitoring capability. Drones have limitations (the operator must alway have visual contact with the drone) but also numerous advantages: they are much less expensive than aircraft, they can be deployed quickly, and they can gather photographs of violations that airplanes might miss due to tree cover. The Pipeline Air Force now has one drone and Ben owns one. He is a licensed drone operator. He hopes to recruit others who have drone licenses or are willing to get one.

Dan Shaffer (ABRA) reviewed plans for citizen reporting, through which concerned citizens can submit reports and photos to a central office that will organize the input and get it out to enforcement personnel.

Jake Lemon (Trout Unlimited) gave an overview of the “citizen scientist” stream quality monitoring effort. Friends of Nelson is one of many organizations that are working with TU on gathering baseline data on streams that would be crossed by the ACP and MVP.  With several years of monthly monitoring of stream turbidity, pH, conductivity and other parameters, this program should prove valuable in substantiating claims that the pipeline operators are violating the law.

Dick Brooks (Cowpasture River Preservation Assoc.) closed the meeting with comments about how interested citizens can pitch in to the CSI effort.

Stay tuned for formal information about CSI, along with links to additional information, coming soon from CSI.

[Thanks to Elinor Amidon for notes and Doug Wellman for preparing the report]