For the second time since work began on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, regulators have put the company on notice that it is breaking rules meant to protect the environment.
Crews building the natural gas pipeline failed to prevent sediment-laden water from running off at a work site in Monroe County, West Virginia, according to a notice of violation issued last week by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Opponents of the project have long argued that clearing land and digging ditches along steep mountain slopes for the massive buried pipeline will invite problems with erosion, leading to contamination of streams that feed public and private water supplies.
Those fears were corroborated April 25, when West Virginia environmental regulators issued their first notice that Mountain Valley was using inadequate erosion and sediment control devices.
Ann Rogers, director of development for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said she was “grievously concerned” to learn of a second notice — especially coming so soon in a construction process that is only a few months old.
“People need to understand that we’re just getting started,” she said. “If you think this is bad, wait until they start digging deeper into the ground.”
After receiving their first notice of violation, pipeline officials wrote in a letter to regulators that the issues had been “fully addressed and resolved.”
Yet just a few weeks later, they were facing more problems.
One trouble spot was in a “known flood plain,” according to written reports, and in another construction area water was seen running through a silt fence meant to curb erosion.
“Sediment deposits were observed in stream, causing conditions not allowable,” an inspection report stated.
“The MVP project team immediately worked to install new devices and increased staffing on crews that are responsible for monitoring, maintaining, and repairing them,” company spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email Thursday.
“It’s important to remember that this notice is part of a collaborative effort with a regulatory system that involves public and private experts sharing information and working together to ensure this project is built safely and responsibly,” the email stated.
“The MVP project team is committed to doing this the right way, and we welcome and appreciate the assistance and oversight provided by state and federal inspectors.”
Typically, environmental regulators seek to resolve problems before taking more stringent steps, which could include formal enforcement orders and financial penalties.
An inspection report from West Virginia named Trinity Energy Services as the site operator involved in the most recent issues. The earlier action cited Precision Pipeline, a Wisconsin-based contractor that has encountered erosion problems with other pipeline projects.
Mishaps with severe runoff have also been confirmed by regulators in Virginia, where the 303-mile buried pipeline will pass through the New River and Roanoke valleys on its way to Pittsylvania County to connect with an existing pipeline.
But as of late last week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality had not issued any notices of violation, the step that usually initiates formal enforcement proceedings.
According to a recent report from the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Commission, requests made under open-record laws show the agency “has not applied the most basic scientific protocols” to ensure that streams will be adequately protected during construction of Mountain Valley and a similar project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
A DEQ spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The lack of action so far “really raises questions about the standards to which DEQ is holding this project,” Rogers said.
“There’s a problem there somewhere,” she said — one that needs to be addressed by Gov. Ralph Northam.