Bay Journal

VA, Dominion agree to extra pipeline construction oversight

Critics call deal 'smokescreen' hiding lack of strict pollution controls

  • By Jeff Day on May 30, 2016
This photo shows construction of a 12-inch gas pipeline in 2014. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be a 42-inch pipeline. 
 (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)

Virginia regulators and the energy company Dominion have agreed to tighter state oversight of construction of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Critics of the project, however, are calling it a “smokescreen,” which they say hides a lack of strict controls to prevent sediment pollution of water ways.

The state Department of Environmental Quality is requiring the company to adhere to a “project-specific” erosion and sediment control plan for the 42-inch diameter pipeline, which is planned to carry natural gas from Ohio and West Virginia to southeastern Virginia and North Carolina. The company has accepted the state’s directive, which officials says goes beyond what’s required by state law.

State law allows pipelines to be constructed under company-proposed annual permits that apply statewide, even though it requires project specific plans for almost all other land-disturbing projects.

Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Mary Ward recently said that the state will ensure that the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline does not add to the sediment fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The currently proposed route would result in trenching through highly erodible karst geology. The pipeline would also cross more than 600 water bodies of various sizes, according to the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition.

DEQ ‘s extra requirements for the pipeline are set out in a three-paragraph letter May 16 letter to Dominion Transmission Inc. Among other things, Dominion would be required to submit to the agency all pipeline construction inspection reports, complaint logs and complaint responses.

The company would also have to pay DEQ costs incurred in hiring additional staff to review the company’s erosion and sediment control plan and conduct “compliance activities.”

Finally, Dominion would have to post its erosion and sediment plan on its website, as well as DEQ’s plan approval and supporting documents.

Dominion is “in agreement with DEQ” on the special requirements, spokesman Aaron Ruby said.

The requirements do not impress Rick Webb, a leader of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, representing 14 conservation groups worried about its environmental impacts.  Requiring a project-specific erosion and sediment control plan “is really a smokescreen that obscures a continued failure by DEQ to regulate the pipelines properly and legally,” Webb said.

Webb said DEQ should require site-specific plans at each location where construction runoff may damage water bodies. The pipeline would cross more than 600 of various sizes, he added.

In addition, Webb said the public, local governments, and other agencies “must be given a meaningful opportunity to review and comment on those plans before environmental reviews are complete and permitting decisions are made.”

Meanwhile, another Virginia county board is objecting to the proposed route of the pipeline. The Bath County board of supervisors unanimously approved a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging that proposed route through the county be modified.

Four counties have objected the proposed route. Nelson County and the city of Staunton have urged FERC to reject the whole pipeline project.

The Bath County board asked FERC to require a route that either avoids the county altogether, or failing that, a route that avoids caves and sinkholes in karst topography and wherever possible private property.

The county is home to the historic Homestead resort and warm spring-fed Jefferson Pools. The George Washington National Forest covers almost half the county. The board’s letter recommends that the pipeline, if it is built, be routed to the greatest extent possible through the national forest.

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About Jeff Day
Jeff Day covered government policy developments for more than 20 years at Bloomberg BNA, including Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts since 2009. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Jeff Day

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