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Atlantic Coast pipeline's construction safety flagged in December 2018

Federal inspectors found in 2018 that construction on the Dominion Energy Inc.-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia likely violated safety standards, according to a July letter addressed to a company subsidiary.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, alerted Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. on July 25 that the agency discovered "unsafe construction practices at work" during a December 2018 inspection in Doddridge and Lewis counties of the 600-mile project. The line would bring 1.5 Bcf/d of natural gas from Appalachia to East Coast markets and pipeline connections. PHMSA staff specifically pointed to the positioning of rocks and boulders that could be particularly dangerous during pipe testing or in the event of heavy rains.

"At Broad Run Rd., 42-inch diameter pipe was noted to have been placed within an apparent 42-inch-wide, rock-laden ditch, leaving it susceptible to potential stresses and or damage incurred as a result of movement or settlement typically experienced during required hydrostatic testing," PHMSA wrote. "At Democrat Rd., 42-inch-diameter pipe was noted to have been placed within a rock laden ditch, uncentered, and abutting rock laden trench walls. The PHMSA inspectors also conveyed concern with positioning of pipe within proximity to large unsupported boulders susceptible of damaging the pipeline from settlement above if allowed to remain."

Dominion said Aug. 15 that the inspection occurred during U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's temporary stay on construction for the project.

"During this time, the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline] was required to halt all construction, acting minimally to make the area safe and protective of the environment," company spokesperson Samantha Norris said in an Aug. 15 email. "Once the stabilization work was authorized by [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], the areas addressed in the PHMSA inspection were remediated. The ACP plans to respond to the PHMSA warning letter ... outlining these actions."

The Sierra Club on Aug. 15 called on the federal government to halt construction on the Atlantic Coast pipeline project in response to PHMSA's findings. The group also questioned why seven months elapsed between PHMSA's inspection and the warning letter to Dominion.

North Carolina's House of Representatives asked FERC in April to issue a stop-work order, citing the project's incompatibility with the state's climate goals as well as its delayed timeline and extra costs that could be passed on to electricity ratepayers. (FERC dockets CP15-554-000 and CP15-554-001)

The pipeline, a joint venture among Dominion, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co., has faced permitting and legal challenges since FERC authorized it in October 2017, including the loss of a U.S. Forest Service authorization to cross the Appalachian Trail, as conservation groups and landowners fight the project. In July, the 4th Circuit struck down U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizations related to four species potentially affected by the project. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit docket 18-2090)