West Virginia environmental regulators have changed some state-imposed conditions to a federal permit issued for stream crossings for natural gas pipelines approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In a letter sent to federal regulators last week, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) officials submitted a series of changes to the state-imposed conditions for the Nationwide Permit 12.
The changes include the removal of a 72-hour time restriction for construction of interstate natural gas pipelines under waterways in certain cases.
To cross under streams, rivers and wetlands, major pipeline projects need a permit from the Army Corps under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The permits detail how much sediment or debris can end up in waterways during construction of interstate pipelines, but also dams, levees and major highway projects.
The Nationwide Permit 12 is one Section 404 permit. It is used to authorize utility line construction as well as to authorize the building of natural gas pipelines.
Under federal law, states can add special conditions to those permits. WVDEP began the process of updating West Virginia's 401 Water Quality Certification standard and special conditions in August 2018.
The WVDEP previously required interstate pipelines must be built under major rivers within 72 hours.
This caused problems for the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline. Last year, a federal court threw out the project’s Section 404 permit after environmental groups argued pipeline developers’ own planning documents showed they couldn’t meet that 72-hour waterway crossing deadline. Currently, the project is awaiting new Section 404 permits and can’t do construction under waterways.
The new modifications clarify that stream crossing methods that are done when streams are flowing must be completed within 72 hours, but that stream crossings where waterways are damned, also called the "dry ditch" method, are exempt from the 72-hour requirement.
Construction and access bridges and crossings on Section 10 rivers are also exempt from the 72-hour requirements, the letter states.
Pipeline activist group, Appalachians Against Pipelines, launched a demonstration due in-part to the changes to the permitting scheme.
Last Thursday, 22-year-old Holden Dometrius locked himself to welding equipment at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site near Lindside, which caused work to stop, the group said in a news release.
A representative for the group said the action and signs Dometrius held, which read "To hell with your permits" and "No borders, no prisons, no pipelines on stolen land" were in reference to disapproval with all permits issued to the project, including WVDEP's recent changes to the Section 401 Water Quality Certification.
The changes are subject to review by both the Army Corps and U.S. EPA.
Clarification: This story was updated on 5/1/2019 to clarify that the changes made by the WVDEP were only made to the Nationwide Permit 12.