For the sixth time, environmental regulators have cited Mountain Valley Pipeline for failing to contain muddy water flowing from construction sites.
A notice of violation was recently issued against the Pittsburgh company by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, according to a filing Thursday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Four similar actions have been taken in West Virginia since early April; a single notice of violation that addresses problems in six Southwest Virginia counties was filed July 9 by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
David Sligh, a former senior environmental engineer for DEQ, said it’s “pretty extraordinary” for there to be so many flaws with erosion and sediment control devices that are supposed to prevent runoff from reaching streams and other sensitive natural resources along the natural gas pipeline’s linear construction zone.
“If it’s one and it’s an accident or an oversight, then yeah, you give them some slack,” said Sligh, who now opposes the pipeline as conservation director of Wild Virginia.
“But if it continues to happen — two, three, five or eight times — that’s too many.”
With most of the reported violations, Mountain Valley officials have said they took corrective actions. But if problems persist, the notices of violation could lead to more serious enforcement actions, such as fines and stop-work orders — a step that regulators have yet to take.
As the paperwork continues to pile up, Virginia Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, is asking Gov. Ralph Northam to order a stop to construction.
“It is not an overstatement to say that science dictates that this pipeline cannot be safely built in this area,” Edwards wrote in a letter to the governor dated Friday.
The buried pipeline will traverse 199 steep slopes with grades in excess of 35 percent of a 45-degree angle, Edwards wrote. The grade will be greater than 70 percent along 12 segments.
“With or without controls, slopes at these grades are too steep and doomed to have mudslides and sediment erosion,” the letter stated. “In fact, MVP crosses some of the steepest terrain in the eastern United States with unstable, porous limestone ‘karst’ land filled with caves, sinkholes and landslides.”
Sediment-laden runoff poses a risk of contamination to private wells and public water supplies and can cause headaches for local governments. Roanoke officials have said they expect to spend at least $36 million to deal with additional sediment in the Roanoke River produced by the pipeline.
When it issued a notice of violation on July 9, DEQ gave Mountain Valley officials 10 days to respond. Company officials wrote in a July 17 letter that they would “follow up with DEQ shortly” to schedule a conference to discuss the matter.
“After announcing the temporary suspension of pipeline installation activities on June 29, MVP project crews focused on strengthening erosion and sediment controls,” company spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email Friday. “The Virginia DEQ has inspected the controls prior to allowing installation work to resume.”
Cox could not be reached Monday for comment on the most recently reported notice of violation in West Virginia. But according to a letter from company attorneys sent to FERC, “Mountain Valley has already addressed the issues raised in the notice.”
According to inspection reports, water bars meant to curb erosion along the pipeline’s route through Doddridge and Harrison counties were improperly installed, allowing sediment to leave the 125-foot-wide construction easement and make its way into a tributary of Dry Fork.
Similar problems are described in the other five notices of violations.
Precision Pipeline, one of the contractors hired by Mountain Valley to build the pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia, is listed in the most recent report as the site operator. The company has worked on at least three other pipelines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that encountered problems with erosion and sediment control, leading to enforcement actions against the projects’ developers.
A call to Precision Pipeline’s Wisconsin headquarters was not returned Monday.
Meanwhile, opponents of the 303-mile-long, 42-inch diameter pipeline — which will transport natural gas at high pressure from northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County — are calling for swift action by the State Water Control Board.
In April, the panel of governor-appointed citizens decided to ask for public comments on the adequacy of stream-crossing permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Mountain Valley and a second pipeline that will cut through Central Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
More than 13,000 written statements were submitted during a public comment period that ended June 15.
After requesting the comments under the state’s open records law, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition said it learned that DEQ is just beginning to sort through the comments, which it plans to present to the State Water Control Board at an Aug. 21 meeting.
Concerned about what it called “outrageous foot-dragging,” the coalition and Wild Virginia are compiling the comments themselves. They plan to publish them online with a summary later this week.
“Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack,” the groups said in a statement.
“We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st, and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job.”