Environment

DEQ required Dominion to pay $1.5 million for potential, actual damage from Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The circled area shows the general areas of sub-basins that are eligible for mitigation projects as part of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (Map: DEQ)

Dominion Energy paid more than $1.5 million to the NC Department of Environmental Quality to offset potential and actual damage from the construction and operation of the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The payment, made in February 2018 to the Division of Mitigation Services, was part of a state program for impacts to water quality and stream and river buffers.

Both state and federal regulators require developers to pay a third-party or conduct mitigation themselves if their projects unavoidably damage waterways or buffers.

Under the state’s in-lieu fee mitigation program, a state agency like DMS, or a nonprofit organization, sells credits to developers, in this case, Dominion. The payment is required in advance of construction, and DMS or the nonprofit is responsible for the mitigation project’s success. In some instances, the developer chooses to hire a contractor and pay for its own mitigation.

Just under half of the funds Dominion paid to DMS — $719,240 — were allocated for buffer projects in Upper Tar River and Fishing Creek sub-basins. This area includes the cities of Rocky Mount, Nashville and Enfield, where the pipeline would have routed.

Another $849,000 was allocated to buffer projects in the Upper Neuse River and Contentnea sub-basins, which include Smithfield, Selma and Wilson, also along the proposed route.

Sub-basinSub-basin acreage, available for projectsFee paid
Upper Tar-Pamlico835,070$369,886
Fishing Creek572,176$349,354
Upper Neuse1,539,932$564,159
Contentnea645,470$284,909

 

A formula determines the number of acres or linear feet that must be mitigated for every acre or linear foot that is impacted. The ratio depends on the type of wetlands or streams the acres or linear feet, and the type of mitigation. Usually the ratio is 2-to-1 or 5-to-1, but can be as high as 10-to-1, in particularly sensitive areas.

DMS then calculates the number of credits a developer must purchase. The value of credits in North Carolina is established by the Environmental Management Commission, and are based on the actual costs of the projects. Currently the rate is $1.16 per credit.

The US Army Corps of Engineers requires impacts to be mitigated within the same watershed. But depending on the availability of public and private land on which to build new wetlands or restore streams, mitigation can occur farther away from the immediate impact. For example, the Upper Neuse River sub basin encompasses 1.4 million acres, and mitigation could legally occur anywhere within it.

However, the state says it targets even smaller sub-watersheds and local watersheds to maximize the benefits as close to the impact as possible. And instead of restoring areas piecemeal, DMS is trying to combine sites into larger, connected tracts to amplify the environmental benefits.

Dominion has not requested a refund. After nine months, refunds apply to canceled projects only if mitigation no longer required, according to DMS policy. The utility could not be reached for comment.

Policy Watch recently reported on the immense damage incurred on private property as a result of the pipeline construction. Waterways and wetlands on that land could be eligible for mitigation.

This money for environmental offsets is unrelated to the governor’s memorandum of understanding with the utility, worth $52 million. That amount was not paid because Dominion and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, canceled the project earlier this year.

Environment

Break in previously repaired pipe cause of Colonial Pipeline’s massive gasoline spill

The Southeastern route of the Colonial Pipeline (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

At 42 years old, the pipeline could take no more.

Colonial Pipeline has identified a break in a previously repaired segment of pipe as the cause of a 272,580-gallon gasoline spill in Huntersville in August. Details of the accident were made public in a 30-day report filed with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The leak source originated from beneath a portion of pipe repaired in 2004 as part of an integrity assessment. The pipe had been installed 3 feet below ground.

The pipeline, one of two owned by Colonial transporting petroleum products from Texas to New Jersey, is 40 inches in diameter, with walls three-tenths of an inch thick, coated with coal tar and made by Bethlehem Steel in 1978.

At the time of the spill, the pressure inside the pipeline was 183 pounds per square inch, far below the maximum of 673.

Colonial estimated it will incur costs of at least $10 million, including $2.6 million to clean up and monitor the contaminated groundwater and soil, plus $351,000 in lost gasoline.

Although a remote supervisory control and data acquisition system — SCADA — was operating at the time of the accident, it did not detect or confirm any drop in pressure, the report said. The leak was discovered by two teenagers riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve, who saw liquid bubbling at the surface of the ground.

Because of the age of the pipeline, there was no computational pipeline monitoring system — CPM — in place that could have detected the leak earlier. Federal law exempts pipelines built before Oct. 1, 2019 from installing CPMs until Oct. 1, 2024.

Policy Watch reported yesterday that Colonial had increased the estimated size of the spill by more than four times — from 63,000 gallons to more than 272,000 gallons, one of the largest gasoline spills in North Carolina history. About half of the product has been recovered. The groundwater and soil have been contaminated, but the size of the underground plume of gasoline has yet to be determined.

The neighborhoods around the spill are on private well water. Although no petroleum products have been detected in residential wells, Colonial has offered to cap some of them and connect the homes to a public water system, plus pay the owners $1,000 for future water bills.

However, landowners have stated publicly that they feel pressured by Colonial to sign the agreements. The contracts, Policy Watch reported, exclude important protections for the landowners.

 



Publisher Report (Text)

agriculture, Environment

State ag officials: Dicamba also contaminated compost, but original source remains unknown

Anastasia Maddox’s tomato plants curled as the result of herbicide poisoning of compost she had used on her garden. (Photo filed by Maddox with her public comments to the EPA)

A state Department of Agriculture investigation found powerful herbicides Dicamba — now banned — and Clopyralid in several compost samples that killed and damaged plants in dozens of gardens and small farms in North Carolina. However, investigators could not identify the original source of contamination.

Policy Watch reported last month that McGill Environmental in Chatham County unknowingly sold the tainted compost under the name “Certified Soilbuilder” to garden shops in the Triad and Triangle, where people purchased the product.

McGill officials speculated some of the contamination came from yard waste that had been sprayed with pesticides. That waste was then collected by municipalities and delivered to McGill to be used as feedstock to make the compost.

Sydney Ross, pesticide operations specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, said the agency received 85 complaints related to contaminated compost from McGill. Two samples detected Dicamba and another taken  detected trace amounts of Clopyralid; all other samples taken did not detect the presence of any pesticides.

In its own investigation, McGill found Clopyralid in the compost.

Manufactured by Bayer, Dicamba has a troublesome 50-year history. Farmers previously avoided spraying the herbicide during warm, dry weather because it is prone to drifting and can harm crops and yards that weren’t the target of the spray.

Four years ago, the EPA approved an expansion of its use on soybeans that had been genetically modified to be tolerant of the chemical. As a result, millions of acres were sprayed nationwide, while the number of complaints skyrocketed, mostly from farmers and orchard and vineyard owners who said their crops had been damaged or killed by drift.

In June, a federal court ruled that it is no longer legal to sell Dicamba. However, farmers are allowed to use any of their remaining inventory. Some states have implemented restrictions, though, on how and when Dicamba can be sprayed.

Bayer recently allocated $400 million toward a settlement for alleged crop damage in the Midwest, beginning in 2015.

Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, and now its spinoff company Corteva, Clopyralid is a persistent and powerful herbicide. Some states and municipalities have banned it outright. But in North Carolina, it can legally be applied to alfalfa and turf fields, as well on right-of-ways.

Without knowing the original source of the pesticides, the agriculture department could not determine if there were violations of state pesticide law. The cases are now closed, Ross said.

Environment

Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Huntersville was bigger — much bigger — than originally thought

The Colonial Pipeline spill on Aug. 14 released nearly five times more gasoline than previously estimated — at least 272,580 gallons, a number that could rise as the clean up in Huntersville continues.

On the date of the spill, Colonial was required to immediately notify state and federal authorities with an estimated amount of gasoline spill — 63,000 gallons.

Only about half of the gasoline has been recovered, according to Colonial, which included the information in a 30-day report to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The spill occurred along Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve. Two teenagers riding ATVs in the area spotted liquid bubbling from the ground and notified a friend of the family, who is a firefighter. In turn, the firefighter informed Colonial.

Colonial posted on its website that it has not detected petroleum or its byproducts in any residential wells. The company has offered to connect residents within the 1,500-foot radius of the spill to the public water system and to pay for the costs associated with doing so, plus $1,000 toward future water bills.

The spill of at least 272,000 gallons of gasoline occurred in the Oehler Nature Preserve, which is near many neighborhoods in Huntersville.

“Homeowners who have been offered the opportunity to connect to public water are free to decline the offer, and if they do so, Colonial will continue to monitor and test their water wells, at no cost to the homeowners, for the foreseeable future,” the company wrote.

However, one homeowner, Shannon Ward, told the Huntersville Town Board last week that she felt pressured by Colonial representatives to sign the contract. She wanted to consult with an attorney before signing.

Ward provided the contract to Policy Watch, which in turn asked several attorneys to review it. Among the legal concerns was the omission of any reference to environmental laws governing the clean up. For example, private wells must be closed under provisions of Well Abandonment and Certification rules; the contract fails to mention them.

Another clause prevents the property owner from suing Colonial for any harm it caused during the work. Nor does the agreement specify the landowners’ rights to receive any records related to the activities conducted on their property.

Colonial, which has operated in North Carolina since the late 1950s, has a subpar accident record in North Carolina. The NC Department of Environmental Quality said at a public meeting that there have been 26 reported incidents. These include releases in 1995, 2000 and 2015 in Kannapolis, and another in Lexington in 2013.

However, what isn’t known is the number of unreported spills. According to federal court documents, a 500-gallon spill that occurred near a booster station in Lexington, NC in April 2013. During the cleanup, contractors found evidence of previous spills dating to at least 1989, but there were no records of the releases.

Similarly, in that case, filed by Wallace & Graham in Salisbury, Colonial asked nearby property owners to sign contracts in order to be connected to a public water system. Colonial also bought properties near some of the affected neighbors “without explaining the reason and this has caused concerns about contamination,” the documents read. On at least one property, after Colonial bought it, the company tore down the home.

Contamination from the 2013 spill was found in monitoring wells and groundwater as late as March 2019. According to court documents, a report from late 2019 said an environmental assessment was flawed because of a lack of adequate deep wells to understand the spread of benzene and other contamination. The underground plume has yet to be fully delineated.

The judge ruled that while the plaintiffs successfully alleged their properties had been damaged by the 2013 spill, there was no evidence of  “gross negligence,” and the statute of limitations on the earlier spills had lapsed.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

WesternGeco withdraws seismic testing application, but NC coast still vulnerable to offshore drilling

The area off the North Carolina coast that would be open to offshore seismic testing and oil and gas drilling.

WesternGeco has withdrawn its application to conduct underwater seismic testing for the oil and gas industries off the coast of North Carolina. But without a federal moratorium on the testing and drilling, these waters and the coast remain at risk.

The company notified the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management of its withdrawal on Sept. 4. BOEM had not yet ruled on the application.

WesternGeco had planned to shoot air guns  every 10 seconds, 208 days a year, at 225 to 260 decibels — louder than a rocket launch — from 19 miles offshore from the coast of Maryland, past North Carolina and further down the East Coast to 50 miles offshore of St. Augustine, Fla.

Even though the company would be using air guns outside of North Carolina’s jurisdictional boundary, the sound and shock waves travel for miles. Fish and other aquatic life often swim farther at sea and then return to the North Carolina coast, its bays and estuaries. Scientists have concluded that the seismic testing could harm the sea life that makes North Carolina its home base.

It’s unclear with prompted the withdrawal. The Trump administration had lifted a long-term moratorium on drilling and testing along the Southeast Coast. But earlier this week, the administration reversed itself, and again banned offshore drilling along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

However, in what appeared to be a snub to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Trump excluded North Carolina from the moratorium, allowing testing and drilling to occur.

Although WesternGeco is no longer interested in North Carolina waters, other companies have also applied. Without a federal moratorium, the coast is still vulnerable. Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker with the Southern Environmental Law Center issued a statement:

“The entire East Coast is unified in opposition to seismic blasting and oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, and this appears to be another recognition of that reality. But, like the President’s announcement this week, this isn’t a cause for celebration. Just as the other Atlantic states are still at risk for drilling, there are still other companies pursuing seismic blasting. We still have work to do.”

The Cooper administration, including the NC Department of Environmental Quality, has fought offshore drilling since 2017. Nearly every local government along the North Carolina coast also has opposed it, over concerns about potential spills and their effect on marine life, fisheries, water quality and tourism.

This part of the Atlantic Ocean is beyond states’ jurisdictional boundary of three miles, but energy exploration companies still must seek state certification to determine if the proposals comply with their respective coastal management laws. If the state objects, as has North Carolina, the federal government can’t issue a permit. However, the US Department of Commerce ultimately rules on appeals and disputes.

In June, the federal government overruled North Carolina’s objection to seismic testing off the coast, saying the activity proposed by the company WesternGeco is in the national interest. The decision allowed the BOEM to issue permits for seismic testing on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, roughly from Maryland to Florida. Four more companies have requested permits.

In response, last month NC Attorney General Josh Stein filed suit last month against the Trump administration to block the action.

Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal protection project at the Natural Resources Defense Council called on the remaining companies to follow WesternGeco’s lead and withdraw their applications.

“This withdrawal is a sign of how strong the bipartisan opposition is—by coastal communities and officials at every level—to the harm that seismic explosions along the Atlantic coast would cause to marine life, to our oceans, and to our climate.”