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Pipeline Companies Penalized for Erosion Violations in Southwestern Pa.

Two pipeline companies have agreed to pay significant monetary penalties for pipeline slips and erosion and sedimentation problems that allowed discharges into local waterways.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced the consent agreements with EQM Gathering and Columbia Gas Transmission.

The DEP handed down penalties totaling $427,650 as it finalized the last of three consent agreements with EQM Gathering, which is part of EQM Midstream that merged with Equitrans Midstream earlier this year. The agreement settles a series of pipeline slips and erosion problems in three Western Pennsylvania counties between 2016 and 2018.

It also required Columbia Gas Transmission, which was acquired by Texas-based TC Energy in 2016, to pay $156,000 for erosion and sedimentation violations in Greene County in 2017 and 2018.

The EQM violations occurred in Washington, Greene and Westmoreland counties and led to discharges of bentonite, a drilling clay, and sediment into streams that are high-quality waters and fisheries.

The conservation districts of the respective counties oversee erosion and sedimentation control programs for the state in accordance with the Clean Streams Law. Numerous inspections found that EQM failed to use best management practices for erosion and sedimentation, failed to comply with reporting and recordkeeping and failed to permanently stabilize construction areas on one site.

The violations led to discharges of bentonite or sediment to enter Ruff Creek and a tributary to Boyd Creek in Greene County; Little Chartiers Creek, Tenmile Creek, Little Tenmile Creek and a tributary in Washington County; and Loyalhanna Creek in Westmoreland County.

The most recent consent agreement calls for a penalty of $82,650. In addition, EQM must repair seven sites where slips occurred, the settlement states.

In the nine months before the last settlement, DEP reached two additional agreements with EQM over violations in Washington and Greene counties. In February, a $250,000 penalty was assessed for slides and violations that allowed sediment to flow into the South Fork of Tenmile Creek in Greene County. EQM quickly corrected the violations and stabilized the area.

In December 2019, a consent agreement addressed violations in 2016 and 2017 during construction of a pipeline in Amwell, North Bethlehem and Somerset townships in Washington County that allowed discharges to flow into a private pond and Little Tenmile Creek. EQM paid a $95,000 penalty and developed a corrective plan.

The Greene County Conservation District and DEP found numerous erosion and sedimentation violations during construction of Columbia Gas Transmission’s Leach Xpress pipeline that allowed discharges into Dunkard Fork and a tributary to Enlow Fork, as well as a wetland. Although Columbia submitted documentation of some remedial action in took, some violations remained uncorrected, the DEP said. The company must submit a schedule for undertaking corrective work.

The agreements not only illustrate the need for frequent inspections during construction of pipelines to ensure proper procedures are followed, but the role that the local conservation districts play in ensuring that these inspections are carried out.

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