US Congressional committees request FERC for Rover gas line briefing

The ranking minority members of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and US House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an update on environmental concerns stemming from construction of the Rover natural gas pipeline.

The ranking minority members of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and US House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an update on environmental concerns stemming from construction of the Rover natural gas pipeline.

Sen. Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) said in their Feb. 14 letter to FERC Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre that they wrote then-acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur on July 27, 2017, about management issues with the $4.2-billion project, which would extend through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan.

“Among other concerns, we noted Rover’s troubling environmental record, which includes seven industrial spills,” Cantwell and Pallone told McIntyre. One of the spills, which reportedly led to 2 million gal of drilling fluid seeping into nearby wetlands, occurred while Rover construction crews were working on a Tuscarawas River crossing in Ohio, they said.

FERC ordered Energy Transfer Partners, the project’s sponsor, not to begin new horizontal directional drilling (HDD) but allowed HDD, which was already under way to continue last year after Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) began enforcement actions following bentonite slurry discharges and other matters along the route (OGJ Online, May 12, 2017).

OEPA Director Craig W. Butler asked Atty. Gen. Michael DeWine (R) to seek civil penalties against Rover Pipeline LLC for the slurry and other discharges along the project’s route a few weeks later (OGJ Online, July 10, 2017). The agency also ordered Rover Pipeline to implement a release prevention and emergency response plan on July 7 and submit a revised contingency plan within seven days that addressed findings and orders the agency issued at that time.

Saying several weeks later that negotiations to resolve allegations that Rover Pipeline LLC and PreTec Directional Drilling LLC violated two state environmental regulations are no longer productive, OEPA asked DeWine to begin civil proceedings against the pipeline developer and its contractor (OGJ Online, Sept. 21, 2017). The agency was seeking a $2.3 million civil penalty, Butler said during a teleconference with reporters.

In their Feb. 14 letter to McIntyre, Cantwell and Pallone said that after Rover Pipeline began HDD on another Tuscarawas River crossing on Dec. 28, FERC ordered the project’s sponsor to cease the operations on Jan. 24 because “no approach to date has been completely successful” in resolving the drilling fluid loss, and “the difficult geology at the crossing warrants investigation into other approaches.”

“While FERC authorized Rover to recommence HDD on Feb. 6, we remain concerned with Rover’s apparent lack of urgency in addressing repeated environmental concerns during the construction of this pipeline,” the two congressional Democrats said.

They added that in a Sept. 1 letter, then-acting FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, after responding to their earlier inquiry to McIntyre, said that “the extent to which a project proponent has demonstrated a pattern of willful or significant violations in the past is a factor that can be considered by the commission in determining whether the applicant, with respect to a new project, ‘is willing and able…to conform to the provisions of the [1938 Natural Gas Act] and the requirements…of the commission thereunder.”

Cantwell and Pallone said that in light of ongoing problems with the Rover Pipeline project, they were requesting information on:

• Any cases in which FERC has evaluated a potential pattern of past willful or significant violations in reviewing a pipeline certificate application under the Gas Act.

• Any incidents since current statutory penalty levels were enacted in which FERC imposed a civil penalty based in part on the willful or significant nature of a violation.

“Our committees have a long-standing interest in ensuring that drilling activities minimize environmental risk and that regulated entities are operating in full compliance with all applicable statutes, regulations, and permits,” the federal lawmakers told McIntyre. They requested a briefing from FERC staff members by Feb. 28 on any environmental risks associated with the Rover Pipeline projects described in the Jan. 24 order and other information outlined in their letter.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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