Just two months after construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline began, regulators cited the project for failing to control erosion at two work sites.
A notice of violation, issued April 25 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, marks the first such action related to work on a natural gas pipeline that opponents have predicted will cause widespread environmental damage.
The notice was included in a status report filed this week by Mountain Valley with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the lead agency overseeing construction of the 303-mile pipeline through the two Virginias.
“We expected this, frankly,” said David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, one of the organizations critical of a massive buried pipeline being built by a partnership of five energy companies.
“We have all along doubted that they would be faithful to the requirements they are supposed to be held to,” Sligh said. “I think it’s a cautionary tale, for sure, for the state of Virginia.”
So far, there have been complaints but no documented cases of violations along the pipeline’s route through the Roanoke and New River regions, according to a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
In West Virginia, an inspection in early April found flaws in erosion and sediment control measures at two construction sites in Wetzel County, where the pipeline will originate.
Work crews failed to prevent sediment-laden water from leaving a site where a compressor station is under construction before first passing through a control device, according to the notice of violation.
At another site, erosion caused by heavy rains was not properly channeled down a hillside, causing a portion of the slope to give way.
Although sediment released from the areas did not impact any nearby streams, inspectors with the Department of Environmental Protection instructed Mountain Valley to make things right. The improvements included the installation of silt socks and other erosion control measures.
“The project team took corrective action to address the problems, and will continue to do so in the event that any additional issues arise,” Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email Wednesday.
“The rigorous inspection process involving project, state, and federal officials is designed to quickly identify issues or failures of erosion and sediment control devices,” she wrote.
“This inspection and the project team’s prompt attention to rectifying the issue demonstrate the process is working as designed.”
However, pipeline opponents say the fact that problems have come up so early in the construction process suggest there are inadequate measures to prevent harmful sediment from reaching streams and rivers, where it would pose a risk to drinking water supplies.
“Unless our state leaders take action, communities along its route will continue to live in fear of the Mountain Valley Pipeline causing serious harm to our water,” said Bill Price, organizing manager for the Sierra Club in West Virginia.
Issues with erosion control have also been identified in an area where the pipeline will pass through the Jefferson National Forest.
A report from Transcon Environmental, a company that is assisting the U.S. Forest Service with monitoring pipeline work, noted ruts — in some cases more than a foot deep — along Pocahontas Road and Mystery Ridge Road, two gravel roads in Giles County that Mountain Valley is using to reach construction areas.
In a non-compliance report filed with FERC, Transcon described “the lack of progress related to maintenance of the road.”
As a third-party consultant, Transcon does not have the authority to take enforcement actions the way a state environmental agency could.
According to an inspection report from West Virginia regulators, the construction contractor at the Wetzel County work site where erosion problems were found was Precision Pipeline, a company that is also doing work for Mountain Valley in Virginia.
Precision Pipeline has been involved with other projects that were cited for the same kind of environmental violations that Mountain Valley opponents warned of during a lengthy regulatory process.
Since 2015, environmental inspectors in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have sanctioned the developers of three pipelines for failing to prevent muddy water and sediment dislodged by bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment from contaminating nearby streams.
Although Precision Pipeline was not named in the enforcement actions, it was linked to the projects through inspection reports, notices of violations, lawsuits and other public records.
FERC, the lead agency in monitoring work on the pipeline, has so far not cited Mountain Valley for violating any regulations. In its weekly status reports to FERC, Mountain Valley has listed hundreds of issues that it has called problem areas or non-compliance reports.
Many of the cases involved trees that were cut along the pipeline’s right of way falling outside of the designated construction zone.
In those and other instances, FERC has issued what it calls “communication reports.” Those reports, contained in weekly environmental compliance summaries, did not find Mountain Valley at fault because the company self-reported the problems and identified a way to correct them, a FERC spokeswoman has said.
And FERC has yet to take any formal action on complaints that Forest Service officials and Mountain Valley security guards damaged the Appalachian Trail while monitoring a tree-sit protest at the top of Peters Mountain.
The use of all-terrain vehicles on a short stretch of the trail left tire tracks, muddy ruts and a swath of bare land six to eight feet wide on a scenic footpath where motorized vehicles are prohibited.
Forest Service officials have since apologized for the incidents. Mountain Valley has said only that its security crews had permission from the Forest Service to four-wheel along the trail.