By Rick Webb, Highlands Conservancy Board Member and Chair of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance CSI Program

The Pipeline Air Force, a component of the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI), has conducted multiple surveillance flights over Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) construction areas in West Virginia in recent months.

This report includes some of the thousands of aerial photos of ACP construction obtained by the CSI. Consistent with observations of other pipeline projects in the region, these photos provide compelling evidence that citizen oversight of pipeline construction is needed.

We cannot simply rely on regulatory system oversight or pipeline industry claims of good stewardship to ensure water resource protection and compliance with environmental requirements. The established system for pipeline approval and oversight has proven dysfunctional.

The regulatory agencies have failed to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of available measures for prevention of water resource harm associated with pipeline construction across the steep mountains, karst valleys, and high-quality headwater streams of the central Appalachian highlands. Beyond concerns about technical capability, we have no reason to expect strict compliance with even the marginally protective requirements that are in place.

The agencies are too understaffed for effective inspection and enforcement, too willing to waive basic requirements, and too reluctant to inconvenience pipeline developers. And the developers are in too much of a hurry for diligent adherence to their own approved plans.

The CSI photos of Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction reveal that installation of runoff and erosion and sediment controls is occurring after rather than before or concurrent with construction-related earth disturbance. Our studies of previous pipeline projects, along with continuing reports of problems with other pipelines under construction in the region, indicate that delayed installation of runoff and erosion and sediment controls is standard industry practice and a major cause of water resource degradation.

Dominion Energy has taken this delayed approach to installation of environmental controls in the first phases of ACP construction. Apparently it intends to build the entire project on this incautious and noncompliant basis.


The accompanying photos show initial land clearing and excavation for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia’s Upshur, Randolph, and Pocahontas Counties. The photos reveal noncompliance with the approved West Virginia Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) for the ACP project, including the following specific requirements:

13.2 CONSTRUCTION SEQUENCE, 13.2.1 General Pipeline Construction, Site Preparation

  1. Install perimeter Best Management Practices incrementally in advance of bulk earth-moving activity.
  2. Conduct progressive clearing with installation of temporary sediment barriers and temporary equipment bridges keeping pace with clearing.


13.4 STRUCTURAL CONTROLS, 13.4.1 Temporary Structure Control Measures, Temporary Sediment Barriers

Sediment barriers, which are temporary sediment controls intended to minimize the flow and deposition of sediment beyond approved workspaces or into sensitive resource areas, will be installed prior to mechanize clearing of trees, brush, and vegetation. They may be constructed of materials such as silt fence, compacted earth (e.g., drivable berms across travel lanes), compost filter sock, sand bags, or other appropriate materials . . . .


13.4 STRUCTURAL CONTROLS, 13.4.1 Temporary Structure Control Measures, Belted Silt Retention Fence

Belted Silt Retention Fence will be used to intercept and detain small amounts of sediment from disturbed areas during construction operations to minimize the potential for sediment from leaving the site. . . . BSFR will be installed where indicated on the Construction Alignment Sheets. . . .