Managing Ecological Resources
Land stewardship is the responsible management of the land. It includes activities such as conservation, sustainable use, and restoration. Land stewardship is crucial because it helps protect the environment, protect biodiversity, and prevent land degradation. The loss of biodiversity has far-reaching consequences that can lead to ecosystems becoming less productive and less resilient to change. Biodiversity loss can also lead to a loss of aesthetic value and cultural diversity, impacting Equitrans' relationship with our surrounding communities, reputation, and license to operate. We recognize that our activities affect the surrounding landscape, and we take our responsibility as land stewards seriously. It is our goal to safeguard the biodiversity and overall health of ecosystems throughout our operational footprint and ensure these important resources are preserved and restored to the same condition as we found them, when possible. As a good land steward, we are committed to protecting and preserving natural environments and diligently work to ensure our approaches to preserving natural resources are as effective as possible.
As a member of various industry associations, including the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), we participate in working groups that focus on site planning, development, restoration, and other topics that foster land protection. Participating in these discussions bolsters our land stewardship efforts by providing guidance on site development, restoration, and other land protection topics. For example, the MSC has multiple workgroups that focus on topics related to habitat restoration, such as the benefits of pollinator seed mixes. Equitrans’ transmission and gathering operations are located across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. At present, we operate on nearly 111,000 acres near or within environmentally sensitive or protected areas, excluding the Mountain Valley Pipeline and MVP Southgate projects. Protected areas that may be affected by our operations include federal- and state-owned properties, such as state parks and game lands, as well as county parks and recreation areas.
Prior to the commencement of any construction project, we conduct studies to determine whether threatened or endangered species are present within the vicinity of the project. The review process includes desktop and field studies to identify potential habitat and/or presence of protected species. If any threatened or endangered species are found, we consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as state and local wildlife agencies, to ensure our construction and operations minimize any impacts to these protected species. The most common species of state or federal concern found within our operating areas are bats, mussels, and various plants.
Equitrans also partners with private companies and organizations to assist with installation of habitat structures to support the specific needs of species, such as bat boxes and fish spawning structures; purchase mitigation credits that are used to offset impacts to streams and wetlands; and purchase native seed mixes to enhance local habitat restoration in sensitive resource areas.
Proactive Project Planning
We assess and identify environmentally sensitive areas along a planned pipeline route and/or facility footprint during the routing and development phase to minimize environmental impacts on our construction projects. The routing team utilizes a geographic information system (GIS) equipped with current aerial photography, historical landslide mapping, slope modeling, aspect mapping, and terrain visualization, along with publicly available information, to identify environmental features when performing desktop reviews. Once a baseline route is established and landowners have granted survey permissions, crews are deployed to perform field feasibility studies. Equitrans’ environmental team supports our route development team, making adjustments along the way until route confirmation is achieved. During the routing process, the team aims to maximize project efficiencies and minimize overall project disturbance by considering factors from all project disciplines, including biodiversity and environmental functions. In addition to reducing the overall environmental disturbance, routes can be modified for a number of reasons, including avoidance of cultural resources and landowner requests.
Through this process, multiple route alternatives are evaluated from a desktop and field review perspective prior to finalizing the project footprint. The environmental team utilizes field visits, publicly available online resources, and information collected from past projects to identify resources designated as high-quality and exceptional value; potential habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species; and cultural/historical resources. This information is considered in our project plans — taking steps to avoid where possible, as well as proactively plan activities to minimize, any potential biodiversity and environmental impacts.
For example, if a stream or wetland cannot be avoided, we strive to cross the resource perpendicularly and at the narrowest location, as well as efficiently reduce the area of disturbance in the riparian buffer to minimize potential impacts. Additionally, if bat habitat cannot be avoided, we strive to minimize tree clearing and schedule project activities so that necessary tree clearing happens during designated timeframes, when impacts can be minimized or eliminated. Through our pipeline routing and facility footprint design efforts, we are often able to minimize temporary impacts and, when possible, avoid permanent impacts. Once the pipeline route or facility site is confirmed to have met the objectives of the routing process, the permit preparation phase further refines the avoidance and minimization of potential impacts related to the project.
The environmental team employs specialized consultants to conduct field delineations of streams and wetlands, habitat analyses, and geotechnical studies to identify historical landslides and landslide-prone areas. The consultants also begin to design temporary and permanent measures to control erosion and storm water runoff both during and after construction. The permit preparation phase includes coordinating with appropriate regulatory agencies for pre-application meetings to discuss project plans and identification of potential issues. Through ongoing dialogue, the agencies provide guidance to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. After plans are finalized and permit applications are submitted, the team coordinates with regulatory agencies to answer questions and address concerns. This coordination continues throughout the review process and engages other external stakeholders to understand and resolve concerns.
We strive to avoid or minimize any negative biodiversity or environmental impacts throughout all phases of a project. At the initiation of construction, Equitrans’ team members, including on-site contractors, are advised of regulatory requirements and environmental permit conditions that must be adhered to during implementation of the project. Project team members also receive project-specific training on environmentally sensitive areas; proper installation and maintenance requirements for erosion and sediment control (E&SC), using best management practices (BMPs); incident response procedures; and special conditions that apply to sensitive resource areas. Project limits are clearly defined prior to the start of construction with project-specific flagging and signage to maintain necessary avoidance and awareness. Additionally, we utilize on-site monitors in select sensitive areas to ensure the work being done adheres to the assigned avoidance and mitigation measures.
The potential impacts from erosion and sedimentation during Equitrans’ construction activities are generally short-term and temporary in nature. Equitrans works with contractors to minimize both the project footprint and the duration of time disturbed areas remain exposed, implementing temporary stabilization measures within the required timeframes and in many cases, within a shorter timeframe than required by permit conditions.
Prior to earth disturbance activities, and following BMPs, we install appropriate E&SCs that meet or exceed regulatory requirements. These E&SCs are regularly monitored (weekly, at minimum, and post-rainfall events) and maintained throughout construction until adequate vegetation and stabilization is achieved to prevent erosion. For aquatic resources that cannot be avoided along a pipeline route, Equitrans reduces the construction footprint to include the buffer areas (typically 50 feet on each side of the resource); utilizes construction crews that specialize in aquatic resource crossings to further reduce the potential for impacts during pipe installation; installs the pipeline facilities as a separate construction activity; and completes restoration of the buffer areas immediately following installation and prior to returning flow to the stream channel.
During the construction phase, Equitrans tracks all E&SC failures. We consider failures as any instance when erosion and sediment control structures fail to prevent soil erosion and sediment releases to water, resulting in an escape of sediment out of the project’s limit of disturbance (LOD). Releases that occurred in 2021 posed minimal and temporary impacts to waterbodies. During these events, clean-up efforts were initiated as soon as the releases were discovered, and the appropriate federal and state agencies were notified as required. Following clean-up efforts, E&SC experts evaluate the root cause of these releases and increase or modify the BMPs in the area, as necessary, to further reduce risk and the potential for repeat events in the future.