Category Archives: Environmental Impact

Sign on to the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition’s Objection to the DEQ’s Water Quality Certification Proposal

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has filed an eight-page objection to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) Water Quality Certification proposal that would allow all utility projects in Virginia to be regulated under a generalized Nationwide 12 permit.  The DPMC argues that the issuance of the proposed Water Quality Certification would be illegal, because the DEQ has not conducted the required analysis of the impacts on water quality standards; furthermore, the generalized conditions under the Nationwide permit cannot possibly protect the great variety of waters that would be affected across the state by utility projects, nor can they account for the large variation in project conditions encountered by the many different utility line projects (ranging from small to very large) that would be covered under the general permit.

Bold Alliance has created an online petition by which you can add your name to the DPMC’s objection to the DEQ’s Water Quality Certification proposal.  The petition is an easy way for you to voice your concern for the protection of Virginia’s streams and wetlands during construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other utility projects across the state. 

The Virginia DEQ is currently accepting comments on the proposed Water Quality Certification, but the deadline is this Friday, March 17th!  Be sure to sign Bold Alliance’s online petition by this Friday.  You can also submit comments to the DEQ regarding the Water Quality Certification by email:  Comments should be submitted to Steven.Hardwick@deq.virginia.govAgain, the deadline for comments is this Friday, March 17, 2017 by 11:59 pm.

To learn more about the proposed Water Quality Certification, read our earlier post here at Friends of Nelson or read the DPMC’s detailed post about this issue, “Permission to Pollute.”

Press Release: Study Concludes that Dominion Understates Pipeline’s Landslide Potential in Nelson County

Friends of Nelson Press Release, March 13, 2017 (Contact:  Joyce Burton, Friends of Nelson, 434-361-2328)

Study Concludes that Dominion Understates Pipeline’s Landslide Potential in Nelson County

A study of the potential for slope failures and landslides in Nelson County from the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, coupled with a review of Dominion’s in-house analysis, has concluded that “Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows (and) landslides.” The report also states that “the potential for debris flows in the very steep mountainous portions of Nelson County is underestimated by the reports submitted to FERC by Dominion.”

The author of the report, Blackburn Consulting Services, LLC, was contracted to review, assess, and comment on information submitted by Dominion to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), as related to the construction and operation of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) through Nelson County. The review was limited to information pertaining to soils/soil structure and slope stability, as well as the associated geohazards and erosion/water quality concerns that the ACP project raises for Nelson County.

As part of their work, Blackburn developed a series of predictive maps to better identify the areas with high debris flow potentials and spent three full days in Nelson County traveling to 17 pre-determined sites along the pipeline route to ground-truth their model. In addition to their visual assessments of the terrain in those areas, four hand-auger borings were performed, and full soil descriptions were completed from 14 soil pits dug using a mechanical excavator. Three of the sites were located near the Wintergreen entry on Rt. 664—proposed as the exit point for a 4500-foot tunnel through the Blue Ridge—where they found evidence of a history of numerous debris flows.

Blackburn also reviewed documents submitted by Dominion to FERC through December 1, 2016. Soil scientists looked at the information Dominion was using to determine the pipeline route, soil types along that route, slope stability and erodibility.

The scientists found that Dominion has been using inadequate and inappropriate data sets to assess the soils and identify the landslide risk potential along the pipeline route in Nelson.

The report states: “(The) review has discovered that, due to the reliance on this regional- based and publicly available information, many of the statements made in Dominion’s FERC filings represent gross generalities. Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows/landslides, nor have they adequately addressed how they plan to mitigate those site-specific hazards that can put people, property and water quality at extreme risk.”

“Given the types of soils that the soil/scientists observed during their site work on Nelson’s steep slopes (loose uncompacted soils on slopes that measured as steep as 83%), it is obvious that the erosion potential of these slopes is much higher than Dominion is reporting,” said Randy Whiting of Friends of Nelson. “Considering the anticipated difficulties Dominion is expected to have with revegetating the pipeline right-of-way—both during and after construction—it becomes apparent that combining Nelson’s soils, slopes and this proposed pipeline is a recipe for disaster.”

“After reading this report, what scares me even more are the places where they want to install the pipeline along our narrow ridgetops,” said Joyce Burton of Friends of Nelson, referring to ridgetops such as those on Roberts Mountain. “There is no way to clear and flatten a 125’ construction right-of-way on a ridge that is only 60’ feet wide without severely impacting the landslide-prone slopes on either side. “

“We are calling on FERC to rescind the current DEIS and demand that Dominion follow these scientists’ recommendations to perform a more thorough assessment of the landslide risks in Nelson before the approval process is allowed to proceed any further,” Burton concluded.

Blackburn Consulting Services, LLC has over 50 years of experience in mapping and evaluating soil characteristics for a variety of purposes—ranging from agriculture and forestry to land development, environmental and wastewater disposal. They are licensed Professional Soil Scientists and On-site Soil Evaluators in the State of Virginia and nationally certified through the Soil Science Society of America.

The report was a joint project of Friends of Nelson, Friends of Wintergreen, and Wintergreen Property Owners Inc.

You can download the full report by clicking here.

To download this press release, click here

Tell the Virginia DEQ to Reject the Water Quality Certification of the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide 12 Permit

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) reports this week that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is considering a proposal to issue a Water Quality Certification (WQC) that would allow parties to build utility lines, including large gas pipelines, through streams and wetlands across Virginia with only the limited, generalized requirements for waterbody crossings that are stipulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide permit (NWP 12).  According to the DPMC, such generalized conditions under the Nationwide permit cannot possibly protect the great variety of waters that would be affected across the state by utility projects, nor can they account for the large variation in project conditions encountered by the many different utility line projects (ranging from small to very large) that would be covered under the general permit.

Despite the fact that the DEQ is charged with ensuring that all Virginia water quality standards are met for such utility projects, the DPMC reports that the DEQ has performed no analysis to look at the impacts of NWP 12 activities on water quality standards. The DPMC requested all supporting documentation for the DEQ’s proposed regulatory action and received only five documents that show that no analysis of impacts was even attempted, let alone completed.

The DEQ has suggested that it may attempt to cover the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline under this generalized WQC if the Corps of Engineers deems them eligible for coverage under NWP 12.  The DPMC asserts that such an action would be illegal and argues that this proposal cannot be justified on legal or scientific grounds even for the many smaller utility projects that the WQC would cover.

The Virginia DEQ is currently accepting comments on the proposed Water Quality Certification, so you have an opportunity to make your voice heard on this issue.  Contact the DEQ and tell them to reject the Water Quality Certification of the Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide 12 Permit.  Comments should be submitted to Steven.Hardwick@deq.virginia.govThe deadline for comments is this Friday, March 17, 2017 by 11:59 pm.

To read the DPMC’s full statement on its position regarding the DEQ’s consideration of the proposal to issue a Water Quality Certification that would allow parties to build utility lines through Virginia’s waterbodies under a generalized Nationwide 12 permit, click here

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Ask Your Nelson County Supervisor to Adopt the Amended Floodplain Ordinance

Despite the Nelson County Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation (in June of 2016) to the Nelson County’s Board of Supervisors that they amend Nelson County’s Floodplain Ordinance to adopt crucial Higher Standards as recommended by The Federal Emergency Management Agency/National Floodplain Insurance Program, there is a distinct lack of action from the Board.  Please call your Supervisor and urge them to take action! Click here for contact information for the Nelson County Board of Supervisors.  If you are a resident of Nelson County and haven’t already signed our petition urging the Board to act on the amended flood plain ordinance, please take the time to do so.

The proposed amendments to the floodplain ordinance would give Nelson County the opportunity to lower floodplain insurance for its homeowners and business owners and would prohibit critical facilities, hazardous materials, and non-native fill in special flood hazard areas.  Nelson County has six out of the eight “High Risk Flood Hazard Areas” defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers, including areas that are susceptible to flash flooding, mudslides, erosion, alluvial fans, ice jams, and high velocity flows, making it imperative that our Board of Supervisors take prudent action to protect Nelson County by adopting the amendments to our Floodplain Ordinance.  You can read the proposed amendments in their entirety by clicking here

The ACP in Our National Forests: FERC’s Problematic DEIS and How You Can Help

Photo by Lynn Cameron

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) released a new story map this week about the major problems with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s (ACP’s) route through the National Forests.  The report highlights seven major issues with the DEIS and provides information on how you can help protect our National Forests by submitting a comment to FERC that asks the Forest Service to deny a Special Use Permit that would allow construction of the ACP through the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests.

The DPMC has identified seven problem areas in the DEIS for the ACP:

  1. The request for an amendment to the forest plans for the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests would lower standards for soil retention, water quality protection, harvesting old growth trees, crossing the Appalachian Trail, construction of roads in a Scenic River Corridor, and the maintenance of scenic integrity.
  2. The construction of the ACP and its many access roads would result in significant loss of forestland and increased forest fragmentation.  A total of 2,406 acres of core forestland would be lost in the National Forests.  This impact cannot be mitigated.
  3. The DEIS fails to acknowledge and address the many endangered and sensitive species that will be negatively impacted by the ACP.  The DEIS only identifies five species that would be adversely affected, but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has identified 30 federally threatened or endangered species, 2 designated critical habitats, 1 proposed species, 5 proposed critical habitats, and 6 species under review for federal listing that are known to occur along the ACP route.  Furthermore, forest fragmentation or slight shifts in the route of the ACP could negatively impact many additional species.  Many of the biological surveys for special species may not be completed until September 2017; therefore, survey results are not included in the DEIS.  The DEIS is thus incomplete with regard to impacts to sensitive species and cannot inform the Forest Service regarding its decision to issue a Special Use Permit. 
  4. The ACP will threaten water quality in pristine streams and rivers in the National Forests.  The ACP and it access roads would cross 58 streams in the National Forests, including 26 native brook trout streams.
  5. The ACP route passes through high-hazard areas with steep terrain that would be prone to severe erosion, landslides, and harmful stream sedimentation.  The DEIS identified over 100 possible slope instability hazard locations along the proposed ACP route.  The Forest Service asked Dominion to provide detailed plans for 10 high-hazard areas with steep slopes, unstable soils, and problematic bedrock types, but, due to Dominion’s lack of a timely response, this information is not in the DEIS.
  6. The proposed use of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) to cross the Appalachian Trail at the Augusta County–Nelson County line poses a substantial risk of failure and environmental damage, given workspace limitations and the topographic and geologic characteristics of the proposed drilling locations.  The Forest Service has stipulated that its issuance of a permit for the ACP to cross National Forest lands is contingent on the successful completion of the HDD under the Appalachian Trail.
  7. The ACP passes through some of the most scenic locations in the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests and would destroy the scenic integrity of these areas.  The DEIS states that the ACP would not meet Forest plan standards for scenic integrity and thus would require a plan amendment to bypass the standards.

You can help protect our National Forests by submitting a comment to FERC that asks the Forest Service to deny a Special Use Permit for the ACP and reject forest plan amendments.  The DPMC encourages you to submit comments that emphasize that the DEIS is incomplete, inconsistent, and incorrect and does not provide adequate information for Forest Service decisions.

You can submit comments to FERC through FERC’s online comment system or send written comments to the following address:

Nathaniel J. Davis, Sr., Deputy Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE, Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426

Be sure to use the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s docket number CP15-554-000 when submitting your comment to FERC, whether you submit electronically or by mail.  The deadline for comments to FERC regarding the ACP on National Forest lands is April 10, 2017.

For more information on how to send comments to FERC, please visit our FERC page.  To view the DPMC’s excellent story map (which contains much more information that the overview presented here) in its entirety, click here

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EPA Withdraws Request for Methane Emissions Information from Oil and Gas Industry

On March 2nd, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew its request that owners and operators in the oil and natural gas industry provide information on equipment and emissions at existing oil and gas operations.  The withdrawal of the request takes effect immediately, which means that the oil and gas industry no longer needs to provide any information about methane emissions to the EPA and can continue to release untold quantities of methane into the atmosphere when drilling for oil and gas.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that warms the planet by as much as 86 times as much as carbon dioxide.  Studies in recent years have shown that increased methane emissions are playing a large role in the acceleration of global warming.  The Obama administration had begun an attempt to limit the amount of methane emitted by the oil and gas industry by requesting that information about methane emissions be submitted to the EPA.

For citizens who are concerned about the upstream environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, not to mention the possibility for leaks along the length of the pipeline during operation, the news that the EPA will no longer require that the oil and gas industry provide information about methane emissions will certainly only magnify their concerns. 

You can read more about the EPA’s withdrawal of its methane emissions request at The Washington Post, The Hill, Scientific American, and Inside Climate News.  You can read the EPA’s press release about the withdrawal of the request by clicking here