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]