Pipeline Construction Monitoring and Compliance

By April Crowe

Keeping up with pipeline construction is enough to make anyone’s head spin! The 3 major pipelines currently under construction–Atlantic Coast (ACP), Mountain Valley (MVP) and Mountaineer Xpress (MXP)–amount to a total of 10,489 acres of earth disturbance. There are only 5 DEP Inspectors covering this onslaught of construction across West Virginia. Divided equally, each of those Inspectors would be responsible for overseeing approximately 2,000 acres. That’s enough ground to cover to keep them very busy! Citizen monitors are helping to provide the Inspectors with some support by serving as eyes on the ground and reporting potential problems so Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can prioritize areas for inspections.

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA) Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative (CSI), WV Rivers Coalition, Trout Unlimited (TU) and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy have a unique partnership to train citizens on how to monitor construction and report potential violations. The Pipeline Air Force monitors from above to pinpoint problem areas and volunteers trained by WV Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and Compliance Surveillance Initiative can follow-up on the ground.

The information gathered from the aerial photos and the boots on the ground is sent to Autumn Crowe, Staff Scientist for WV Rivers Coalition and CSI’s WV Field Coordinator who then forwards complaints to DEP. She has been reporting potential problems and tracking pipeline violations since construction began. To date, 5 complaints have been submitted on the Mountaineer Express, while DEP has issued 24 violations; 15 complaints on Mountain Valley Pipeline and 20 violations issued; and 26 complaints on Atlantic Coast Pipeline with 2 violations issued.

DEP inspectors don’t always issue a violation when a complaint is received, but they do follow-up on the complaint with an inspection. Complaints are forwarded to the company’s Environmental Inspector and an inspection is scheduled. During the onsite inspection, if there are no impacts to water quality and only marginal deficiencies are observed, a warning is issued. If the deficiency is not corrected, that warning will turn into a violation upon the next inspection. When conditions not allowable in state waters are encountered, such as sediment deposits in the stream, that triggers an enforcement action and a Notice of Violation is issued.

Following an aerial flight on ACP in November, we submitted 19 complaints to DEP spanning Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas Counties. Those complaints were for tree clearing without erosion controls in place, erosion control measures that did not match their permit requirements, and failing erosion controls and sediment deposits outside their limit of disturbance. DEP Inspectors were then deployed to investigate those complaints. While weather and the holidays have hindered some inspections, we did receive a status report on a few of the issues.

Regarding the tree clearing without erosion control measures on Michael Mountain in Seneca State Forest, the DEP Inspector found that ACP had installed temporary water bars and no earth disturbance had occurred beyond tree clearing because of the stop work order. No erosion was observed, and the water bars were in good working condition.  In response to our similar complaint on Thorny Mountain in Seneca State Forest, the DEP Inspector was told that the state was logging the right-of-way and it was not the company’s operation. The DEP Inspector will be following up with the WV Division of Natural Resources to confirm.

Our complaint on the Unnamed tributary of Thomas Creek in Pocahontas County was related to the positioning of their erosion control devices not matching their permit and possible construction activities outside the limit of disturbance. Upon inspection, DEP noted that the silt fence was moved due to the steepness of the slope leading up to the stream. He did not see any activity outside the limit of disturbance and the water in the stream was running clear.

The Inspector had similar findings at the site of a complaint along Turkey Bone Road in Randolph County. Our complaint at that site contained aerial photo evidence of sediment deposits in a wetland. During the inspection, the stream and wetland were running clear, so no violation was issued. However, since the site was covered in snow, he couldn’t determine if there were sediment deposits outside the limit of disturbance. The Inspector will have to conduct a follow-up inspection at that site.

Additional inspection reports and subsequent violations will be posted on the DEP’s document database that we monitor on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the Inspector can’t tell us if a violation was issued at a particular site until the company has received notification. We have a good working relationship with the DEP Inspectors and many of them are grateful to have the extra eyes on the ground and in the air to assist them with oversight of these large pipeline projects.