August 29, 2019

DEP Audit Finds Beaver County Agency had Poor Oversight of Two Major Pipeline Projects

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources recently revoked some of the Beaver County Conservation District’s permitting powers after an audit showed that it did a poor job overseeing many projects, including several big natural gas pipelines being built there.

The agency had been authorized to issue erosion and sedimentation and water encroachment permits for the DEP. A press release noted that such delegation of duties to county conservation districts is optional, and that DEP will now take over handling those permits.

An audit conducted in April found that the agency did not have proper staffing, and did not properly review applications, coordinate with DEP or sufficiently inspect projects.

“DEP staff identified significant and consistent problems with BCCD’s recordkeeping, permit review, and inspections,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a press release.

Among the projects that BCCD gave permits to that allow earth-moving was the Revolution pipeline, which DEP said was done improperly because of its type. The application should have been reviewed by DEP, the report states. The pipeline exploded in September 2018 after a landslide caused it to rupture.

“The district needs to be more aware of the different types of oil and gas activities to ensure that the appropriate office is reviewing the permit application,” the report indicates.

In a letter to McDonnell from five environmental and community groups thanking him for the action, they also asked him to suspend all active permits reviewed by BCCD for pipelines and other projects “that, in the event of accident or failure, pose a risk of catastrophe endangering the public.”

The DEP audit noted that the Revolution pipeline being built by Energy Transfer did have more frequent inspections, but “it was evident from these reports that more frequent inspections were conducted because of continuing violations and pollution potential.”

Shell Pipeline Co.’s Falcon pipeline, which will carry ethane to the cracker plant now being built near Monaca in Beaver County received a permit from BCCD after receiving a payment from Shell for an easement, which is a conflict of interest.

“The thoroughness of (BCCD’s) failure to perform its duties is a big deal with potentially significant ramifications,” the letter to McDonnell states.

The DEP also plans to conduct a review of the BCCD’s handing of permits involving delegated duties related to waterways and wetlands.

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