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Energy Transfer Partners: Deja Vu All Over Again

Pipeline builder's construction practices under investigation in Ohio

June 23, 2017

Energy Transfer, the Dallas-based company led by billionaire Kelcy Warren, is stuck in the mud again.

The company that gained international attention while building the Dakota Access Pipeline is now facing yet another investigation of its construction practices on its $4.2 billion Rover natural gas line that runs 713 miles from Michigan through Ohio.

Bloomberg.com reports the $4.3 billion Rover natural gas line has caused seven industrial spills, polluted fragile Ohio wetlands and angered local farmers. The company owes $1.5 million in restitution after demolishing an historic house.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is furious and a federal energy regulator has launched a rare public investigation that threatens to delay the pipeline’s scheduled Nov. 1 completion.

In a letter to Joey Mahmoud, Rover Pipeline senior vice president, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) put Rover on notice saying, "Based on the results of the sampling conducted by Ohio EPA, the Commission’s Office of Enforcement will immediately initiate an investigation to determine the underlying facts that led to the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons in the drilling fluid."

“We’ve not seen a project in Ohio with spills at this size and scale, and if we can’t even trust Rover to construct this pipeline, how can we trust them to operate it when it’s complete?” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

ETP spills this year include:

  • The Ohio EPA cited Energy Transfer at least 16 times for improperly disposing of sediment-laden waster in steams between April 5 and May 8.
  • Between April 8 and May 8, Ohio EPA documented seven spills totaling more than 50,000 barrels into waterways.
  • On April 8, workers reported an “inadvertent release” while drilling near the Indian Fork River in Eastern Ohio where the EPA discovered 2,500 square feet of wetlands flooded with drilling fluid.
  • May 10, FERC confirmed the leak of 2 million gallons of bentonite-based drilling fluid from the Rover pipeline which had covered 6.5 acres, or 6.5 football fields, of Ohio wetland.

The enforcement probe into the spills could result in civil penalties, delays or additional investigations by other agencies.

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, from 2010 to 2016 Energy Transfer spilled 39,225 barrels of hazardous liquids in 262 incidents. Of the top five companies responsible for 44 percent of US. Pipeline spills, Energy Transfer is second only to Enterprise Products Partners.

Dakota Access Update        

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled the Army Corps of Engineers' environmental assessment of the Dakota Access pipeline was inadequate and ordered the Corps to do a new review of the project's impact on local tribes and their hunting and fishing rights and whether permitting decisions around the pipeline were fair to tribe members. 

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg asked the Army Corps of Engineers, Dakota Access developers and local tribes to plead their case on that question in a series of legal briefs due to the court this summer, starting in July.

Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the case, said he expects there will be a decision on the question of the pipeline’s operations by September.

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