Category Archives: Environmental Impact

New Study Highlights Negative Water Quality Impacts of Pipeline Projects

From Allegheny-Blur Ridge Alliance ABRA Update #250, October 24, 2019:

A new study commissioned by Trout Unlimited concludes that the impact on water quality of several natural gas pipeline projects in the Appalachian region is profound, even when care is taken to minimize impacts. Pipeline Impacts to Water Quality, prepared by Downsteam Strategies, a West Virginia environmental research firm, examined the construction of four pipeline projects: Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and WB Xpress Pipeline (WBX) in West Virginia and Virginia, the Rover Pipeline in West Virginia and Ohio, and the Mariner East II Pipeline in Pennsylvania. The most significant water quality problems were caused by inputs of sediment-laden water to streams.

In commenting upon the sediment pollution caused by the MVP and WBX, the study notes, “Most of the routes for these two pipelines cross mountainous terrain characterized by steep slopes, headwaters streams, and highly erodible soils. Reasons for failure of erosion and sedimentation controls that led to sedimentation in waterways were notably improper installation and lack of maintenance of the structures.”

Notable recommendations in the study include “requiring site-specific stormwater plans for all stream and wetland crossings, encouraging companies to complete construction projects in shorter sections, and increasing regulatory inspections at the expense of the pipeline companies.”

Both Fine and Stay for MVP

On Friday October 11, 2019, in a consent issued by Henrico Circuit Court, Mountain Valley Pipeline agreed to pay $2.15 million to resolve the lawsuit by Virginia regulators that accused it of repeatedly violating environmental standards during MVP construction. The suit was filed in December 2018 for “violations of the commonwealth’s environmental laws and regulations at sites in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke Counties.”

The agreement requires the company to submit to court-ordered and supervised compliance with regulations meant to curb sediment and erosion and stipulates automatic fines for further violations. It further stipulates that “MVP, at its expense, shall retain a third-party Environmental Auditor to provide on-site monitoring of instream invertebrate and fisheries resources during all construction activity related to waterbody and wetland crossings and document instream conditions and any impacts to the resources.” Depending on the event, fines of anywhere from $500/day to $26,000 may be levied immediately for future violations.

Later the same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit put a hold on two permits, the Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, permits the MVP needs to proceed with construction activities. According to the Sierra Club press release, the Court’s announcement effectively means construction must stop on the 300-mile project.  On October 15, FERC wrote to MVP, saying in part, “While next steps are determined, Mountain Valley is hereby notified that construction activity along all portions of the Project and in all work areas much cease immediately, with the exception of restoration and stabilization of the right-of-way and work areas, which Commission staff believes will be more protective of the environment, including listed species, than leaving these areas in an unstable condition.”

Speaking of the FERC order, David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia said:  “The command that Mountain Valley cease all construction immediately is appropriate and necessary to meet the law. However, FERC has previously allowed work that is clearly construction to be done under the guise that it is ‘stabilization.’ The Commission must now act responsibly and clearly prohibit all activities that are not absolutely necessary to protect the environment. FERC must no longer play deceptive games that allow further destruction from a project that cannot protect our resources and may never be completed.”

Pipe Coatings

In a letter to FERC,submitted as a Motion to Intervene on September 16, 2019, Bill Limpert discusses Dominion’s July 22 and August 23 reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Dominion reports were in response to FERC’s July 3 request for data regarding possible environmental and health impacts from the 3M Scotchkote Fusion Bonded Epoxy 6233 external pipe coating, and other pipe coating products used for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Limpert says, “I believe Dominion’s reports significantly understate the risk to public health and the environment from this coating, and other products used on the exterior of the pipe. I believe the reports use questionable data, and questionable methodologies to arrive at unreliable conclusions, and therefore, do not adequately answer the FERC’s request for information, or the concerns raised by the Virginia Department of Health.”

Limpert then critiques Dominion’s July 22 report in detail, covering the lack of leaching studies, the impacts of degradation and the long-term health impacts.

He states, “The Dominion reports use questionable data and questionable methodologies to arrive at unreliable conclusions. They do not prove the pipeline coating is safe, or that there will be no negative health or environmental impacts from the coating and associated products used on the exterior of the pipes for the ACP. They do not reliably answer the questions presented in FERC’s request, nor the concerns of the Virginia Department of Health.”

Limpert’s critique of the July 22 report concludes with a list of recommendations for actions FERC should take, including additional study using valid data and methodology, consultation with federal agencies with expertise, advising the US Fish and Wildlife Service that a 3M Material Declaration states that UV degradation byproducts will be toxic to aquatic life, requiring ACP to conduct pre and post construction sampling for chemicals associated with this coating and other products used on the exterior of the pipes in drinking water wells and springs in the vicinity of the proposed pipeline, requiring ACP to provide a potable water source and fair compensation for drinking water sources that are contaminated by these products, and requiring that all pipes be immediately covered to prevent UV degradation material from becoming airborne.

Limpert also writes a detailed critique of Dominion’s August 23 report.

Read the full letter and the attachments to it here.

New Rule Will Reduce Future Endangered Species Protections

A new rule that will significantly limit protections for endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was announced by the Trump Administration on August 12, 2009, and will take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. Note that ESA issues related to the Atlantic Coat Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline are not impacted by the new rule, as it is only applicable to future listing and delisting of threatened and endangered species.

The Trump Administration says the new rule will ease “the regulatory burden on the American public.” Environmental and conservation groups have a different take:

  •  Undermining this popular and successful law is a major step in the wrong direction as we face the increasing challenges of climate change and its effects on wildlife. – Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club
  • “We are in the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, yet the Trump Administration is steamrolling our most effective wildlife protection law. This Administration seems set on damaging fragile ecosystems by prioritizing industry interests over science. – Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “Threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants in our national parks already face habitat changes and impacts of a climate crisis that is accelerating each year. Instead of working with Congress and states to better protect and restore wildlife as the climate changes, the Trump administration is reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act to weaken protections. – Bart Melton, National Parks Conservation Association.

In an August 22, 2019 letter to the editor of The Recorder, Robert “Bobby” Whitescarver says, “Representative Leonor Sullivan (D) stated the reason for the law succinctly on July 27, 1973, on the House floor when she introduced the bill: ‘From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interest of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations. The reason is simple: they are potential resources. They are the keys to puzzles which we cannot solve, and may provide answers to questions which we have not yet learned to ask.’ In other words, it is not wise to wipe off the face of the Earth a species that could hold the cure for cancer or any number of human ailments. Today, one-fourth of all pharmaceuticals come from, or are derived from, plant and animal material.”

The courts have twice tossed out the permit for allowing the elimination or “taking” of an endangered species or its habitat by Dominion. Whitescarver concludes, “If a bee, a bat, a mussel, or a crustacean can stop Dominion’s pipeline, I’m all for it. I wish the people in its path had as much standing in court as the critters.” With the new ruling, it seems that neither the people in the path nor endangered/threatened species would have any power against the will of for-profit corporations.

New Lawsuit Launched Against MVP

The following press release from the Sierra Club announces the lawsuit against the Mountain Valley Pipeline filed on August 12, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019
Contact: Doug Jackson, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3045 or doug.jackson@sierraclub.org
Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org

RICHMOND, Va. — Conservation groups today launched a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The petition for review of the project was filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, issued an opinion that allowed the pipeline to move forward — despite its serious threats to endangered species. The agency failed to accurately measure the pipeline’s impacts on endangered wildlife like the iconic Roanoke logperch and failed to set limits for how many threatened and endangered bats can be harmed or killed.

The lawsuit seeks to vacate the Service’s decision and force the agency to re-evaluate the project’s impact. The groups argue that construction on the already-foundering pipeline should stop until that process is complete.

Today, the groups also sent a letter to the agency requesting that it stay the biological opinion and incidental take statement pending court review. The species at issue include the Roanoke logperch, Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club on behalf of Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Additionally, MVP does not have Clean Water Act authorization to cross streams and wetlands from the Army Corps, and does not have necessary U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management authorizations.

In response, Sierra Club Staff Attorney Elly Benson released the following statement:

“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline puts several endangered species in harm’s way, while serving only to line the pockets of polluting corporations. MVP has proven it can’t build this unnecessary pipeline without devastating streams and rivers, as well as the forest habitats of Appalachia. The public should be able to trust that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making protection of endangered species its highest priority, but it fell short of that obligation here.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director for Wild Virginia stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, like numerous other government agencies tasked with protecting the public and our resources, failed to do its job. Citizens cannot and will not accept actions that endanger the future of some of our rarest and most precious wildlife species. This destructive pipeline has already caused great damage to the environment and the public and it must be stopped before that damage gets worse.”

Roberta Bondurant, Preserve Bent Mountain/BREDL, said:

“Our mountain communities continue to witness MVP ravage the forest, field, stream and wetland sanctuaries of species that have supposedly been protected by federal law. We ask USFWS and the courts to do no more—and no less—than uphold that law through a critical review of the Biological Opinion. At best, the writers of that document ignored evidence of MVP construction as a threat to species survival—survival which will ultimately implicate our own.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated:

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proven its carelessness in forcing through a permit for the similarly destructive Atlantic Coast Pipeline. We have seen this same carelessness in the Service’s permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This pipeline has already wreaked havoc on the landscape; it must not be allowed to continue to jeopardize the existence of our invaluable endangered species.”

Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney, said:

“This pipeline is a major threat to the Roanoke River system and the people and imperiled species that rely on it. Regulators can’t keep shrugging off the environmental harms of pipeline projects. We need to stop destroying habitats and waterways for fossil fuels that are driving the climate catastrophe.”

Jason Rylander, Senior Endangered Species Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, said:

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline poses an enormous threat to the fish, wildlife, forests, and people in its path. The Trump administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fast-tracked this project and failed to properly evaluate its impact on imperiled species. The Service needs to reconsider its biological opinion and further construction of this environmentally destructive project should cease before iconic species and landscapes are lost forever.”