Approach to Environmental
It is our goal to safeguard the biodiversity and overall health of ecosystems throughout our operational footprint and, wherever possible, ensure these important resources are undisturbed and remain in the same condition as we found them. We take every opportunity to responsibly manage the environmental resources with which we come in contact. At project commencement, before construction begins, we evaluate and identify environmentally sensitive areas along the pipeline’s proposed route and/or facility’s proposed footprint. Our Environmental team leads these efforts and makes careful decisions on how to proceed with our activities in order to minimize any potential biodiversity and environmental impacts. This begins with minimizing the amount of disturbance necessary for project construction. We make every effort to avoid and minimize impacts to environmental resources. Through our pipeline routing and facility footprint design efforts, we are able to avoid permanent impacts and minimize temporary impacts.
As a member of various industry associations, including Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, we participate in working groups that focus on site planning, development, restoration, and other topics that foster land protection.
Equitrans’ transmission operations occur across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. At present, we operate on 109,931 acres near or within environmentally sensitive or protected areas. Protected areas that may be affected by our operations within these states include, but are not limited to, Pennsylvania State Parks, Pennsylvania State Game Lands, Ohio State Parks, and property owned by United States Army Corps of Engineers. The most common species of state or federal concern found within our operating areas are bats, mussels, and various plants. Prior to the commencement of operations, we conduct studies to determine whether threatened or endangered species are present in the region. If any threatened or endangered species are found, we consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and state wildlife agencies to ensure that operations do not adversely affect these protected species.
Specific to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project construction operations in West Virginia and Virginia, we consulted with the USFWS on potential impacts to regional bat, mussel, fish, and plant species prior to construction. For the MVP Southgate project in Virginia and North Carolina, similar consultations with the USFWS are being conducted as part of the regulatory review process. These consultations for both projects remain ongoing and we will continue to cooperate with the relevant state and federal agencies and commit to comply with all required biodiversity protections.
Once construction begins, we ensure our activities do not have any significant negative impact on the area’s environmental resources. At construction commencement, our teams receive training on environmental awareness to ensure they are familiar with the environmentally sensitive areas along the pipeline route and the environmental permit conditions for the project. Environmentally sensitive areas and the approved project limits of disturbance are also clearly marked with flagging and signage to ensure necessary avoidance. In the majority of Equitrans’ construction activities, erosion impacts from earth disturbances are short-term, temporary impacts. Nevertheless, we aim to limit these impacts to the greatest extent possible. Prior to earth disturbance activities, we install the appropriate erosion and sediment control Best Management Practices (BMPs). These BMPs are then regularly monitored and maintained throughout construction until we acheive adequate vegetation stabilization to prevent erosion. For aquatic resources within a pipeline route that cannot be avoided, we utilize construction crews specialized in aquatic crossings in order to complete the crossings in a method that minimizes impacts.
When we complete a pipeline and place it into operation, we deploy strategies to protect environmental resources. We strive to meet regulatory requirements set forth by state and federal regulatory agencies. We also work closely with property owners to restore their land as close as possible to original conditions where impacts occurred and to accommodate any special requests or preferences. We reestablish contours and revegetate with state-approved seed mixes, native seed mixes, and vegetation requested by property owners. We also commonly accommodate regulatory agency requests to use specialized seed mixes (e.g., pollinator mixes) and property owner requests for topsoil segregation which preserves removed topsoil for restoration once local work is complete. These techniques support local flora and fauna by allowing wildlife movement, restoration of pre-existing habitat, and prevention of invasive species. By supporting local landowners and communities, we seek to build and maintain positive relationships while also supporting biodiversity and habitat protection. To better prevent slope failures that may have negative environmental consequences, we have developed an in-depth engineering slope design program to help us proactively identify places where slope failures may occur. Once an at-risk area has been identified, we work to install preventative measures to maintain the stability of the slopes.
We leverage Enviance, an environmental database software, to track environmental permit authorizations and conditions to ensure we maintain compliance. We also regularly review permit data to define compliance actions as deadlines approach.
Operational Impacts on Environmental Resources
terrestrial acreage disturbed
terrestrial acreage disturbed that was restored
We make every effort to limit any potential impact our business operations may have on environmental resources. However, we realize that both direct and indirect impacts will occur. In most instances, Equitrans’ impacts to both terrestrial and aquatic resources from construction activities and pipeline operations are minor and temporary. When impacts, either brief or permanent, do exceed regulatory thresholds, we work diligently to remediate them. In 2019, we identified one hydrocarbon-related impact from our operations, which was a leak of produced fluids with minimal hydrocarbons into a stream. This leak, the volume of which was not quantified, was quickly reported to the Natural Resources Conservation Service and absorption booms were placed in the affected area to mitigate the produced fluids that had leaked.
We work to restore disturbed habitats to their original state in order to ensure that an area’s environmental resources continue to flourish after pipeline construction. We frequently install bat habitat boxes and plant pollinator species where possible. We also restore riparian habitats including streams, ponds, and other wetlands that have been affected by our pipeline operations due to their high biodiversity value. By restoring these habitats, we not only provide a supporting environment for terrestrial species, we also minimize the sedimentation that enters riparian areas which subsequently improves habitat quality for aquatic species.
Specific to MVP construction, we are working with regulatory agencies to establish a conservation easement for a West Virginia property near the pipeline. Along the MVP we have restored/protected 2.6 acres of habitat in West Virginia and 30.1 acres of habitat in Virginia. These habitats have been restored/protected as mitigation banks which, as defined by the EPA, are aquatic resource areas including wetlands and streams.
Equitrans, along with other oil and gas companies, has been working with the USFWS to develop a multi-state Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to avoid, minimize, and offset the effects of our operations on three native bat species in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia over the next 35 years. The HCP is a component of a voluntary application to the USFWS for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) that allows for the incidental take of the native bat species that are predicted to occur throughout the operational area. As part of the application, the USFWS requires the development of a HCP for the impacted species. The HCP will benefit the affected species through coordinated mitigation efforts that are more effective for species conservation and growth than they would be without an ITP. While the HCP is still in development, we anticipate it will be approved in 2021, at which time we will be able to enroll our projects in the program.
Evaluating Our Approach to Environmental Resources
Our operational footprint in primarily rural areas means our pipelines traverse intrinsically and economically valuable natural environments. We work diligently to ensure the approaches we use to protect these natural environments are as effective as possible. From project initiation to completion, and throughout a pipeline’s operational lifespan, we continually evaluate the ways in which we identify sensitive environmental areas and how we avoid and protect them. It is our goal to avoid permanent impacts to environmental resources from the routing and locations of our pipes and facilities, respectively, and to do this we extensively review these decisions to evaluate what we did well and what we can do better.