Virginia regulators have accused the builder of the Mountain Valley Pipeline of environmental violations punishable by fines and repair mandates, saying the company’s failure to install and maintain erosion-control devices has fouled 8,800 feet of streams in six locations.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality gave Robert Cooper, project manager for EQT Corp. in Pittsburgh, a nine-page notice of violations on Monday. The energy company, which hopes to fill the line with natural gas by the end of the year and is permitted to continue working, has 10 days to respond.
Five months into tree-clearing, grading and digging needed to bury the pipe, the $3 billion project faces possible state enforcement action for the first time. West Virginia previously notified EQT of alleged violations on that state’s portion of the pipeline.
Complaints by pipeline opponents led Virginia inspectors to evidence of some of the lapses raised Monday, which are spelled out in eight “observations” of noncompliant activity in Craig, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pittsylvania and Roanoke counties. The Virginia Stormwater Management Act, the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Law, the Virginia Water Protection Permit Program and the Clean Water Act have been violated, the state alleges.
The Virginia notice is not a finding of guilt or liability but a set of allegations over which the company and regulators are to negotiate and reach agreement. In Virginia, fines for environmental violations of the type alleged can reach $32,000 per day.
“We are holding MVP accountable and we expect full resolution of the issues,” DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn said Tuesday.
Erosion and sediment control issues led Mountain Valley to voluntarily stop work in Virginia in late June, but it has since resumed work in most areas with DEQ in agreement.
According to the violation notice, inspectors want to hold the company accountable for failures to build approved erosion and sediment control facilities, such as water bars, promised by the company in filings submitted to obtain state and federal approvals. In addition, inspectors found facilities in a state of disrepair and evidence that crews failed to take corrective actions.
Wetland crossings were used before completion, according to the DEQ notice, which was signed by Jerome Brooks, manager of the Office of Water Compliance.
Inadequately maintained erosion and sediment control devices released sediment-laden stormwater that affected a combined 2,800 feet of two streams near Cahas Mountain Road in Franklin County, the notice said.
“The unauthorized fill ranged in depth up to 11 inches,” according to the document, which revealed new details of an investigation into the aftermath of heavy rainfall in late May.
The unexpectedly large rainfall won’t qualify as an excuse for not keeping sediment under control, said Regn, who added that the company is responsible for cleanup.
The notice cites additional breaches in which stormwater overran barriers affecting a combined 6,009 feet of four streams in Franklin, Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
“Citizens have been arguing for years that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built without violating state and federal law,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia program manager for Appalachian Voices, which provides environmental advocacy and says it wants construction stopped. “This is a step in the right direction, but we are alarmed that it has taken this long for DEQ to take enforcement action.”
The statement said citizen monitors have sent evidence of dozens of alleged violations to DEQ .
Cooper did not respond to a request for an interview submitted through EQT spokeswoman Natalie Cox late Tuesday afternoon. Cox said the company is working on the issues referenced by the DEQ.
“The MVP project team continues to take its environmental stewardship responsibilities very seriously and appreciates the guidance and oversight by the VDEQ,” she said by email.