Request comes one week after opponents filed a motion with FERC to halt construction of the controversial gas pipeline
Earlier this morning, residents and environmental groups in Michigan and Ohio issued a formal request to the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke its blanket permit for construction of the Rover gas pipeline.
In a letter filed with the Buffalo District of the Army Corps of Engineers, Terry Lodge, an attorney acting on behalf of three groups –Michigan Residents Against the ET Rover Pipeline, the Ohio-based Fresh Water Accountability Project, and the Sierra Club– urged the Corps to withdraw its blanket permit for Rover contractors to use a drilling practice that has thus far severely damaged wetlands in Ohio, and instead require site-by-site drilling permits.
The ET Rover pipeline project is owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
If completed, the 42-inch-diameter Rover pipeline would carry 3.25 billion cubic feet of unscented, radioactive, hydraulically-fractured natural gas per day from shale formations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. In Michigan it would cross Lenawee, Washtenaw and Livingston counties before joining the Vector pipeline near Howell (Livingston County) in order to export the gas to the Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada.
The concerned residents filing the letter have been engaged with the environmental review process since plans for the pipeline were first announced in 2014. Construction on the pipeline began in early February when FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) issued the project a conditional Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project.
Today’s letter cites Energy Transfer’s recent record of destruction towards waterways as grounds for warranting a case-by-case review by the Army Corps for drilling permits in the Rover project. In the first two months of construction, the Rover project has been cited for 18 different pipeline-related spills in Ohio. The most serious thus far is the spillage of over 5,000,000 gallons of drilling fluid into the wetland area adjacent to the Tucarawas River in Stark County, which resulted in a $431,000 fine from the Ohio EPA (source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/25/energy-transfer-partners-dakota-access-oil-leaks-ohio).
The spills occurred through a process known as horizontal directional drilling (HDD). HDD is a method of tunneling underneath water bodies (such as rivers, streams, and wetlands) and other land features in order to thread a prefabricated pipeline beneath them. Along its route, Rover proposes to use HDD at 45 different water body crossings.
The drilling fluid involved in the Ohio spills, which is composed largely of bentonite clay, kills aquatic life through the mechanical action of smothering it. In response to the spills, Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee observed, “It’s a tragedy in that we would anticipate this wetland won’t recover to its original condition for decades.”
According to Energy Transfer spokesperson Alexis Daniel, such spills are a “common part of horizontal directional drilling.” The Ohio EPA director, for his part, observed that Energy Transfer’s reaction to the spills has been “‘dismissive,’ ‘exceptionallydisappointing,’ and unlike any other response he has seen from a company.”
In response to the disaster, on May 10, FERC ordered Energy Transfer to temporarily halt all HDD activity (http://napipelines.com/ferc-h alts-rover-pipeline-hdd-work/). But because such spills appear to be normal for Energy Transfer, Michigan residents fear that, if HDD resumes, a similar tragedy could happen at Rover’s planned crossing of Portage Creek. Portage Creek is not only home to endangered and at-risk species; it also empties into Portage Lake, into the Huron River and eventually Barton Pond, which is a source of Ann Arbor’s drinking water.
Wendy Zielen, a resident near the Portage River HDD site, observed, “In their haste to get this pipeline built, ET Rover is not properly investigating the risks – risks to residents, and risks to everyone drinking water downstream of HDD water crossing sites. The Ohio spills and subsequent damage demonstrated this haste all too well. ET Rover is pushing this risk onto us. We have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.”
FERC’s moratorium does not affect non-HDD pipeline construction activities –such as digging trenches and laying pipe—which continue along the pipeline’s route.
One Michigan resident, Clifford Rowley, expressed hope that the Army Corps of Engineers will approve today’s request, noting that, “While FERC may have temporarily suspended some pipeline construction, the Corp of Engineers has the responsibility to avoid adverse environmental impacts. We hope that they will recognize the pattern of repeated violations, the scale of destruction, and the stunning dismissal of state authority as a unique set of circumstances that must be met with firm clear action.”
Today’s letter comes just one week after two of its parties –Michigan Residents Against the ET Rover Pipeline and the Fresh Water Accountability Project– filed a motion with FERC calling on the agency to withdraw its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project. FERC has yet to rule on that motion.
A copy of the formal request to the USACE can be found here: https://fwap.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Corps-letter-re-NWP-COMPLET.pdf