Pipeline Explosion Resulted In Huge State Fine. Now, PA Has Found Hundreds Of New Violations

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STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – A pipeline company fresh off a record $30 million fine for a 2018 explosion that leveled a Beaver County home has racked up hundreds of construction violations for hillside slips, soil erosion and stream pollution at construction sites for the same pipeline.

The remnants of a home and garage destroyed by the explosion of the Revolution Pipeline. Reid R. Frazier/StateImpact Pennsylvania

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, ETC Northeast Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer, has had 680 violations along the route of the 40-mile Revolution pipeline in Beaver County since the beginning of the year. The violations are the subject of settlement talks between the agency and the company.

Since January, DEP inspectors observed slopes along the pipeline route slip, erosion and sedimentation barriers fail, and sediment-laden water getting into streams, all violations of the company’s clean water permits.

“There have been a number of slides and stability issues along the route of the Revolution Pipeline,” DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said in an email.

Over the course of four months, DEP inspectors documented more than two dozen slope failures and dozens of instances of soil erosion into nearby streams.

The DEP is not releasing documents and correspondence related to the violations because they “would be part of settlement discussions and would be considered confidential,” Fraley said.

The 24-inch pipeline would carry natural gas between two processing stations in Washington and Butler counties in Western Pennsylvania.

In January, the DEP announced a settlement with Dallas-based Energy Transfer that included a record $30 million fine for violations related to a September 2018 explosion.

The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the blast; the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is also investigating.

The explosion occurred less than a week after the pipeline was put into service. After a landslide near Ivy Lane in Center Township, a section of the line ruptured. The blast forced evacuations and burned one house to the ground.

The January settlement noted widespread problems with the company’s construction of the pipeline, including failure to stabilize more than a dozen hillsides, hundreds of cases where sediment from its construction spilled into rivers and streams, and more than 2,000 cases of improper construction.

The DEP found a landslide had taken place at the site just months before the blast, and the company failed to consult engineers or other geotechnical experts when restoring the site.

The settlement lifted a nearly year-long permit freeze on the company’s pipeline projects in the state, including the cross-state Mariner East pipelines.

But days after the settlement was announced, DEP inspectors began finding problems along the pipeline’s route in Beaver County, according to the DEP’s online oil and gas compliance report database.

On Jan. 7, a DEP inspector observed a four-foot section of “slope material” enter a stream in New Sewickley Township. At a separate site that same day, the inspector observed failing erosion and sedimentation control devices, resulting in “direct discharge of sediment” into a stream.

On a March visit to the pipeline in New Sewickley Township and Conway Borough, inspectors found “sediment laden water travel(ing)” underneath a sediment barrier and into a nearby stream.

On April 29, another inspector found numerous sedimentation violations, including “accelerated erosion” downhill from the construction site.

The company says the DEP is inflating the extent of the problems.

“(T)here are many areas where we disagree with DEP on whether there is a violation,” said Alexis Daniel, an Energy Transfer spokeswoman. Daniel said the DEP was “not in compliance with its own guidelines” in the way it reports violations, and that the DEP was citing the same violations in some cases “multiple times” — “in essence double, or even triple reporting alleged violations, even in some instances where the issue has already been addressed.”

Daniel noted that the company self-reported many of the violations, which it’s required to do under its DEP-issued permits.

Fraley said the DEP was in compliance with its own guidelines for citing violations, and said the agency keeps observing, and documenting, violations along the pipeline.

“One on-site condition may violate several laws, regulations, and permit conditions…,” Fraley said. “If during a subsequent inspection, DEP observes that the violations have not been corrected, the inspector will note the ongoing, uncorrected violations.”

In the “rare circumstance” where the DEP issues a violation citation where the violation has already been corrected, “the DEP has had ongoing cooperative discussions with ETC to ensure that those violations are marked as corrected,” Fraley said.

Daniel said some of the violations occurred in areas where the company is “not released to work.”

“We have a comprehensive plan to address all issues and once we are approved to work, these will be appropriately remediated,” Daniel said.

Fraley said the areas Daniel was referring to are parts of the pipeline where the company had requested a modification to an already-approved construction plan, and that the DEP hasn’t kept the company from accessing those areas “to implement the approved plans” or maintain and repair erosion control features.

“Nearly all of the violations have been the result of ETC’s failure to maintain and repair erosion and sedimentation control devices,” Fraley said.