Now that Virginia and West Virginia have had a year of major pipeline construction, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited have prepared a report on how things are going. In a nutshell, it’s a mess.
Although there are some other, smaller pipelines in Virginia and West Virginia, the report focuses on three large pipelines”
- Atlantic Coast Pipeline
As planned, it will run for604 miles in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. It will include 1439 stream crossings. So far there has been no construction in Virginia and North Carolina; there has been construction in central West Virginia. Along its route there are 127 citizen water quality monitoring sites.
There have been 41 citizen reports of violations by volunteers organized by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative. These do not include any other complaints that may have been made by volunteers not affiliated with these groups. There have been four agency notices of violation.
Construction is currently on hold, pending court challenges.
- Mountain Valley Pipeline
As planned, it will run for 304 miles in West Virginia and Virginia. It will include 1108 stream crossings. There are 58 citizen water quality monitoring sites along its route.
There have been 230 reports of violations by volunteers organized by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and Indian Creek Watershed Association. These do not include any other complaints that may have been made by citizens not affiliated with those groups. There have been 35 agency notices of violations.
Construction is in progress; construction across streams and public lands is suspended pending court challenges.
- Mountaineer Express Pipeline
It is now in service, running 170 miles in West Virginia. It includes 817 stream crossings. There are 17 citizen water quality monitoring sites along its route. There have been five reports of violations by citizens volunteers organized by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited. These do not include any other complaints that may have been made by citizens not affiliated with those groups. There have been 45 agency notices of violations.
What monitoring found
During permit review, pipeline companies said that erosion and sediment control practices would keep sediment out of streams. This isn’t what the citizen monitors found. They found numerous incidents of sediment entering streams.
The monitors also found failed or deficient erosion controls. There were incidents of sediment laden water bypassing erosion control structures and entering streams.
The slopes where pipelines are constructed are not always stable. The construction the volunteers saw was on relatively mild slopes; they were only 23% instead of the 60% slopes where some pipeline construction is planned. In spite of this, there were still slips and hillside failures. Some pipelines have continued to experience slips long after completion of the project.
What should regulators do?
The Report makes several recommendations on what regulators should do to address the problems the report points out. In the short term, the report suggests these steps:
- Enhance agency capacity for pipeline oversight by immediately dedicating more staff and additional resources to inspections.
- Implement restrictions on the number of miles under construction simultaneously and strictly enforce restoration timelines. This would limit how much of the right-of-way is clear of permanent erosion controls and/or vegetation and at risk of storm water sedimentation events
- Require additional erosion control measures at the ends of slope breakers ridges or channels that divert storm water away from sensitive waterways. The lack of this type of control has been cited by state inspectors as a common source of sediment laden water entering streams.
- Require the use of more protective controls such as sediment traps on steep slopes where so much of the erosion control problems originate.
In the long term, the report suggests these steps:
- Require site-specific, stream-by-stream crossing plans, so regulators can ensure proper erosion control methods to protect water quality. Require enhanced best management practices on sensitive waters, such as wild trout streams.
- Require companies to fully evaluate the use of trenchless stream crossings that do not require disturbing streams and justify decisions to use other methods.
- Identify site conditions that are not suitable for pipeline construction such as areas with critical natural resources and require rerouting.
- Increase fines and permit fees. The amount of agency staff time needed to oversee these large scale construction projects is immense. Small fines on billion-dollar projects do little to encourage sound construction practices.