Main roadway access covered in mud

Construction halted at Mountain Valley Pipeline work site following severe erosion in Franklin County, VA

From an Article by Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times, May 20, 2018

State regulators have put a stop to construction of part of the Mountain Valley Pipeline swamped by a rainstorm, saying work cannot continue until proper erosion control measures are established.

Crews were using heavy equipment to cut trees and clear land along the natural gas pipeline’s right of way in Franklin County when heavy rains Thursday night and Friday morning swept away much of the soil they had unearthed.

Both lanes of nearby Cahas Mountain Road were covered by up to eight inches of mud. “It’s clearly unacceptable,” Ann Regn, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said Sunday.

According to both DEQ and Mountain Valley officials, none of the mudflow reached streams, where it could have done the most damage. Nonetheless, the agency is investigating how check dams and other erosion control measures failed to prevent the mess.

Environmental regulators received several calls last week, before the rain started, from members of the public who were concerned that heavy equipment being used to remove trees and clear a 125-foot swath for pipeline construction was exposing the land to potential runoff problems.

Although Mountain Valley crews had erosion control devices in place, “there were some things that completely disappeared” after the rains, including concrete barriers, Regn said.

“Initial reviews indicate the controls were installed properly; however, the circumstances appear unusual and an ultimate cause is under investigation,” Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in an email Friday.

“Upon learning of the issue, MVP crews promptly began remediation activities,” Cox wrote. “The project team remains committed to the safe and responsible construction of this important underground infrastructure project.”

Opponents have predicted that building a 303-mile buried pipeline along steep mountain slopes will dislodge sediment, which can contaminate private wells and public water supplies if it is allowed to enter nearby streams and wetlands.

Already, regulators have pointed to problems with erosion control in Wetzel County, West Virginia, where the pipeline will start a path that will take it through Southwest Virginia before connecting with an existing pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

On April 25, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation against Mountain Valley after an inspection found sediment-laden water that had flowed beyond the perimeters of where a compressor station is under construction.

Out-of-control runoff from a hill on a second site caused part of the slope to give way, according to records filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

And an environmental firm that is monitoring pipeline work for the U.S. Forest Service documented inadequate maintenance on two access roads in the Jefferson National Forest that are being used by Mountain Valley officials. The report noted deep ruts in the road and noncompliance with erosion and sediment control requirements.

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that gave DEQ the authority to order work on the pipeline to cease immediately if there has been, or is likely to be, a “substantial adverse impact to water quality.”

The suspension of construction in Franklin County over the weekend did not rise to that level, with Regn saying that state and Mountain Valley officials agreed informally that stabilization of the area must happen before regular work can proceed.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, said he believes it’s time for VA-DEQ to issue a full stop-work order. “I think it’s well past time,” Hurst said Sunday. “For a lot of people, they think it’s too late already — a day late and a dollar short.”

Hurst made his comments after attending a rally where about 50 people decried the Forest Service’s decision to cut off food and water to a protester who is blocking the pipeline’s route through Giles County.

Known by her Appalachian Trail nickname “Nutty,” the woman has been camped since March 28 in a platform suspended from a 50-foot pole erected in the middle of a construction access road.

“Shame USFS,” read one of the posters held by members of the crowd, which gathered outside of Forest Service headquarters in Roanoke County. “Feed Nutty Now,” another sign stated.

Since the Forest Service cut off supplies being sent up to the woman from a support team camped nearby, she has been living off a reserve of energy bars, applesauce and rainwater collected from a tarp that covers her tiny living space.

Last week, a lawsuit filed by the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville raised questions about Nutty’s treatment.The lawsuit was brought on behalf of a physician who became concerned about her medical condition and hiked nearly two miles to help her – only to be denied access by Forest Service law enforcement officers who have cordoned off the protest site.

In a recent statement posted to the Facebook page of Appalachians Against Pipelines, Nutty wrote about her opposition to the industrial and commercial forces that seek to destroy nature in the name of progress, and the government entities that support them.

“To hell with all that,” she wrote. “To hell with comfort if it comes at the cost of complicity.”

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Geismar Olefins Plant Explosion & Fire, Louisiana, 2013

Company found negligent in Williams Olefins explosion case; four plaintiffs awarded $13.6 million

From an Article by Terry L. Jones, The Advocate, September 26, 2016

PLAQUEMINE — Four men injured in the 2013 explosion at the Williams Olefins Geismar plant were awarded a total of $13.6 million in damages after an Iberville Parish jury late Monday night ruled the company, several plant officials and its parent company were negligent and knew with substantial certainty that the deadly fire could occur.

The jury rendered its verdict after five hours of deliberation in the three-week trial in the first of several lawsuits related to the incident that killed two people and injured 114 workers.

“For a month they were trying to shift blame onto their shell company (Williams Olefins) and I’m glad the jury saw right through it,” Kurt Arnold, attorney for the plaintiffs, said after Monday night’s verdict.

The jury found that Williams’ Oklahoma-based parent company was 95 percent responsible for the explosion and Williams Olefins was 3 percent to blame. The jury apportioned 1 percent of the blame on plant official Parker Tucker and 1 percent for plant supervisor Larry Bayer, who were also named defendants in the lawsuit. The jury absolved defendant Erick Comeaux, a plant official.

Plaintiff Shawn Thomas will receive the highest payout in damages, awarded $9.4 million for past and future medical bills, lost wages and mental anguish, and pain and suffering. Kris Devall was awarded $3.6 million and Eduardo Elizondo and Michael Dantone were awarded $360,000 and $205,000, respectively.

The company, in a written statement issued after the verdict, says it plans to appeal: “Nothing about the tragic accident at the Williams Olefins facility in Geismar on June 13, 2013 was intentional. We believe there is sufficient Louisiana case law that supports our legal position, and we will appeal the jury verdict rendered in the 18th Judicial District Court.”

In their closing arguments, attorneys for the four men asserted Williams Olefins administrative leaders and plant managers had some idea an explosion could occur, ignoring for seven years warnings that could have prevented the tragedy at the facility, which straddles the Ascension-Iberville line.

“This accident doesn’t happen if the board of directors and CEOs heeded the warnings they were told,” Arnold told the jurors.

But the jury was asked by defense attorneys to view the decisions and actions of the company and its plant officials as a mistake they never intended to happen. “This case is not about responsibility. Williams Olefins already accepted responsibility,” defense attorney Glenn Farnet said. “It was a horrible mistake. Human beings make mistakes. Mistakes are not intent.”

Farnet asserted that in order for the plaintiffs to argue intent Williams’ officials would have had to have known three sequential factors would occur on the day of the explosion. “The scenario that happened that morning had never happened in 13 years because it was an unusual scenario,” he said.

The plaintiffs contended that Williams, key management figures and others had known for years that one of two reboilers used in the refinery process was isolated from pressure relief — which meant there was a risk of over-pressurization and explosion.

Both sides admitted in the court the explosion could have been prevented if car seals, costing less than $5, were tied onto the rebroiler valves. But defense attorneys claimed corporate officials were under the assumption the safety measures had been followed based on what they were told by plant managers.

Much of the debate during the three-week trial centered on the whether Williams’ Oklahoma-based corporate headquarters should bear much of the responsibility for the explosion since its administrative leaders must sign off on many of the day-to-day decisions made at the Geismar facility by the plant managers who work for its limited liability company, Williams Olefins.

“Williams Olefins stood up here and took the blame, but that wasn’t enough,” said Jim Reed, the attorney representing two of the parent companies named in the lawsuit. “Sometimes the truth is very simple. Lawyers complicate things.”

Arnold, the plaintiffs attorney, asserted in court Monday that Williams should bear 90 percent of the responsibility for the plant explosion and Williams Olefins should take 4 percent of the blame. The remaining liability should be apportioned among the remaining defendants, he said.

Arnold asked the jury to award Thomas and Devall $12.1 million each to cover past and future medical bills, lost wages and mental and physical suffering since the explosion.

Arnold asked that Elizondo and Dantone get at least $1.6 million and $835,364, respectively, for past and future medical expenses and lost wages. He left it to the jury to determine what additional money, if any, the two men should receive for past and future mental anguish and pain and suffering.

But Randy Cangelosi, one of several attorneys arguing on behalf of Williams, said some of the plaintiffs exaggerated their injuries while others had pre-existing conditions or weren’t injured severely enough to prevent them from getting high-paying jobs in the future.

“This case is about what’s fair and reasonable. It’s not about punishing any company,” he told the jury.

Cangelosi said Dantone should receive between $65,000 to $80,000 in damages, Elizondo somewhere in the range of $65,000 to $80,000, Thomas between $1.4 million to $1.7 million and Devall’s payout should fall somewhere between $400,000 to $925,000.

Tony Clayton, another attorney for plaintiffs, told the jurors that Williams should not be allowed to injure its employees and then turn around and determine how much money the workers should receive for their injuries.

“Your verdict will be a historical marker of how (these plants) conduct themselves in the future,” Clayton said in his closing arguments. “If they’re man enough to come here and make profits off of us, then they need to be man enough to pay for their substantial mistakes.”


Accident Description and Safety Investigation:

Accident: Williams Olefins Plant Explosion and Fire
Location: Geismar, LA
Accident Occured: 06/13/2013 | Final Report Released: 10/19/2016
Accident Type: Chemical Manufacturing – Fire and Explosion
Investigation Status: The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigation was released at a news conference in Baton Rouge, LA, on 10.19.2016
The fire and explosion occurred on Thursday June 13, 2013, which fatally injured two workers and injured 114 at the William Olefins, Inc., plant located in Geismar, Louisiana.


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Pennsylvania Needs Severence Taxes & Environmental Protection

May 21, 2018

Don’t let severance tax distract from environmental issues Letter to Editor, Scranton Times Leader, May 19, 2018 Gov. Tom Wolf has once again proposed a common sense severance tax on natural gas operations in Pennsylvania. Bill O’Boyle’s recent coverage spells out many of the benefits of taxing energy companies based on how much natural gas [...]

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Endocrine Activity of Air Pollutants from Marcellus Drilling & Fracking

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Exploring the endocrine activity of air pollutants associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction Authors: Ashley L. Bolden, Kim Schultz, Katherine E. Pelch and Carol F. Kwiatkowski Reference: Environmental Health, 17:26, 2018 — Manuscript Received: 4 September 2017; Accepted: 20 February 2018; Published: 21 March 2018 Background In the last decade unconventional oil and [...]

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UUA Church Active in Limiting Methane Releases from Fracking Operations

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Church with $2K in gas driller’s stock wins methane vote From an Article by Michael Rubinkam, Washington Post, May 17, 2018 Associated Press — A church with a minuscule stake in Range Resources has won shareholder approval of a resolution to force Pennsylvania’s largest natural gas driller to produce a report on its effort to [...]

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NASA says ‘Clear Human Fingerprints’ on Global Water Shortage

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NASA Study of Increasingly Dire Global Water Shortages Finds ‘Clear Human Fingerprints’ From an Article by Julia Conley, Common Dreams, May 17, 2018 PHOTO: The Aral Sea, seen in a NASA satellite image, in year 2000 on the left versus 2017 on the right. (Modis/Terra/NASA) With a first-of-its-kind satellite study, NASA scientists have identified more [...]

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US-EPA & Department of Interior are Misguided on Economics (!)

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Tipping Scales on the Environment Editorial of the Morgantown Dominion Post, May 14, 2018 EPA & Interior policy shifts focused on economics, not health or wildlife Protecting the environment and wildlife often calls for balancing benefits and costs. No, it’s not written as such into relevant legal codes or regulations. And though this tradeoff is [...]

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Endangered Species Day is Friday, May 18

May 17, 2018

Endangered Species Day is this Friday! You can set up a fundraising page and personalize it to raise money on behalf of your favorite vulnerable species. The money you raise will go towards Sierra Club’s mission, which includes protecting vulnerable wildlife and the lands they live in. Bonus — you’ll earn the chance to symbolically [...]

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline Segments Ruled Illegal in Federal Court Case

May 16, 2018

Federal appeals court invalidates Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s ‘incidental take’ review From an Article by Robert Zullo, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 15, 2018 A federal appeals court Tuesday invalidated a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of the 600-mile Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a decision environmental lawyers who argued the case say should halt construction [...]

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Tree Sitters & Pole Sitters Should Not Be Deprived of Food & Drink

May 15, 2018

NLG Condemns Forest Service For Blocking Food & Water To Pipeline Protester From an Article by Alan Graf and Joel Richard Kupferman, National Lawyers Guild Environmental Committee, May 13, 2018 May 11, 2018 –The Environmental Justice Committee of the National Lawyers Guild stated it condemns the actions of the United States Forest Service in denying [...]

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