DEP Issues $30.6 Million Penalty Over ETC Revolution Pipeline Explosion Violations; Lifts Permit Bar
On January 3, the Department of Environmental Protection announced it has issued a $30.6 million civil penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline (ETC) for violations related to the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion and fire in Beaver County.
The penalty is one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement.
“ETC’s lack of oversight during construction of the Revolution Pipeline and their failure to comply with DEP’s October 2018 compliance order demanded serious accountability. Their inaction led directly to this unprecedented civil penalty,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “DEP is committed to holding permittees accountable for permit compliance and will continue to provide active and stringent oversight over the construction of their projects. Permittees are obligated to ensure that their projects are constructed without incident and in full compliance with permits. If a permittee fails to do so, they will be held accountable.”
On September 10, 2018, a landslide occurred along the Revolution Pipeline in Center Township, Beaver County. When the landslide occurred, a section of the pipeline separated, allowing gas to escape from the pipeline. The gas ignited, causing a fire that burned several acres of forested areas; destroyed a single-family home, a barn, and numerous vehicles; resulted in the evacuation of nearby residents; and caused six high voltage electric transmission towers to collapse.
Fortunately, no one was harmed in this incident.
DEP’s subsequent investigation determined that ETC, which is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, had not stabilized a number of areas along the pipeline resulting in additional slides. ETC also failed to properly implement or maintain hundreds of best management practice controls to address stormwater runoff.
The full investigation also found that during construction of the pipeline, ETC had illegally impacted numerous streams and wetlands along the length of the pipeline right of way.
In the Consent Order and Agreement (COA) between DEP and ETC, $28.6 million will go to the Oil and Gas Program Fund and Clean Water Fund.
Revenue in these funds will buttress the department’s oversight of oil and gas development statewide, including pipeline projects, and will also provide financial assistance to water remediation projects across the state.
An additional $2 million will go toward a DEP-approved community environmental project or projects that will benefit Pennsylvania’s environment and the waters of the Commonwealth.
In 2019, ETC employed a new management team for the project and new consultants from Pennsylvania to address all of the outstanding issues with this project.
After detailed review by DEP, on December 13, 2019, DEP approved, with conditions and an implementation schedule, a temporary slope stabilization plan, a landslide hazard evaluation and an updated erosion and sedimentation control plan which are also incorporated as conditions of the COA.
The COA also requires ETC to restore and mitigate stream and wetland impacts that occurred during the construction of the pipeline and to permanently stabilize all areas in and along the pipeline corridor.
As a result of the COA, ETC has demonstrated its intention to correct its unlawful conduct to DEP’s satisfaction; therefore, DEP will lift the nearly year-long permit bar currently in place.
This will allow DEP to issue, over time, approvable horizontal directional drilling (HDD) re-evaluations to enable HDD or other more appropriate methods to be completed on the project. These actions will not occur all at one time but rather over a period of months.
The company has agreed to inform the agency where and when it will be doing work so that DEP can ensure a field presence during this work going forward.
It will also allow DEP to accept new permit applications and to act on other pending authorization requests when reviews are complete.
The Clean Streams Law permit bar, issued in February, was the broadest and longest bar to have been placed on any company in Pennsylvania.
The COA provides for reinstatement of the permit bar in the event of noncompliance by ETC. In addition, ETC’s failure to comply with any terms and timelines in the COA could result in additional and historic stipulated penalties of $20,000 per day, per violation and any other additional enforcement required and within DEP’s legal authority.
“DEP will continue to carefully monitor ETC’s activities to ensure that ETC meets the terms of this agreement and all approved permits,” McDonnell said. “The conditions imposed by this agreement seek to ensure that ETC will get this right. Anything less is unacceptable.”
The 24-inch Revolution natural gas pipeline owned by Energy Transfer Partners put into service on September 3, 2018 exploded in Beaver County early on the morning of September 10 destroying a house, barn and several vehicles.
Energy Transfer Partners was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “earth movement” amid heavy rains was responsible for the explosion of the newly constructed pipeline.
A landslide was blamed as the cause of another explosion of a newly constructed TransCanada natural gas pipeline in West Virginia in July 2018.
Energy Transfer Partners issued this statement on the agreement with DEP-- "We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the DEP that will allow us to safely complete the construction projects we have underway in Pennsylvania.
“This has been a thorough and detailed process that involved a great deal of analysis and we appreciate the time and effort by the DEP to get to this point.
“As our permits are approved, we will mobilize the necessary resources that will allow Pennsylvania’s craft and labor union members to return to work.
“We remain committed to ensuring that the rules and regulations specified in the approved permits are adhered to as we complete the construction and restoration phases of these projects.
“We look forward to putting them into service so Pennsylvanians can realize the economic benefits of these projects."
Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) issued this statement on the settlement with Energy Transfer Partners-- “No amount of money, no matter how large, addresses the fundamental and ongoing problem with pipeline construction and siting in Pennsylvania and that is the complete lack of oversight and accountability.
“There’s no independent inspection of pipeline construction. There’s no regulation of pipeline placement or siting. And there is no agency that is either willing or able to work to ensure pipeline construction and safety standards. Neither the DEP nor the PUC appears to want to get involved until something goes drastically wrong.
“In fact, currently, more approvals and permits are required to build a deck in your backyard then is needed for a pipeline company to run a hazardous natural gas liquids pipeline through your yard.
“Most recently, in response to an inquiry regarding pipeline construction in Exton that deviated from an approved permit, DEP’s staff outright admitted, ‘We don’t regulate the construction of the pipeline.’
“As a result, I call upon the governor in his upcoming budget address to strongly reaffirm his previously stated support for a series of bills that I and others have introduced to provide the type of protection, oversight, emergency management and notification, and supervision of pipeline construction and operation that is absolutely necessary to help ensure public safety.
“And I call upon legislative leaders to immediately move these bills forward.”
Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel Joseph Otis Minott, Esq. issued this statement on DEP's action-- "As DEP may be preparing to lift the floodgates on Mariner East construction, it is more important than ever that Pennsylvania holds Energy Transfer to task for every poisoned water well, every gaping sinkhole, and every stream destroyed.
“Energy Transfer cannot be trusted to obey the law or protect anything but its pocketbook. Given the disastrous environmental degradation Energy Transfer caused with its Revolution pipeline, the company has lost its social license to operate."
The Better Path Coalition issued this reaction to the DEP compliance agreement--” Pennsylvanians jaded by the Department of Environmental Protection’s poor track record for holding polluters to account will be unmoved by the agency’s historic fine on ETC, the company that has laid waste to communities across the Commonwealth.
“Instead, they will shudder at the thought that the company will be able once again to get permits for its projects. Secretary Patrick McDonnell stated that the company has demonstrated its intention to correct its unlawful conduct to DEP’s satisfaction.
“Unfortunately, that is not a high bar in a state where families whose wells have been contaminated as a result of drilling activities are left to their own devices to find replacement water, where a previously ‘historic’ fine against Range Resources was reversed by the agency without explanation, and where the unfolding climate crisis, the ultimate crime against nature, has not dampened our regulators’ zeal to enable continued greenhouse gas development.
“DEP’s action is an inauspicious start to the last decade we have left to avoid climate disaster.”
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[Posted: January 3, 2020]
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