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Energy Transfer Partners (ETP, which is building the Rover natural gas pipeline in Ohio as well as the Dragonpipe—Mariner East 2—in our area) is being asked by the Ohio EPA to halt its horizontal directional drilling (HDD) activities because of ongoing frac-out problems along the Rover route.

Dragonpipe opponents will find that the situation sounds familiar. Drilling work on the Rover was stopped temporarily earlier this year by FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the construction on interstate pipelines). FERC acted on the request of Ohio’s EPA after a series of frac-outs and other violations that damaged wetlands, streams, and rivers. FERC permitted drilling to resume at most locations starting September 7, after ETP filed a plan which was supposed to minimize future drilling impacts.

In parallel with that Ohio process, ETP signed an agreement in August to clean up its drilling act in Pennsylvania, in response to a lawsuit (based on a similar series of environmental problems) by the Clean Air Council and two other plaintiffs.

Neither of those agreements turned out to be worth the paper it was written on. Frac-outs and other violations have continued in both states. Ohio has assessed ETP more than $2 million in fines, which ETP is refusing to pay.

Now, the Ohio EPA is asking FERC for another halt to drilling until ETP can come up with a more persuasive and enforceable plan. A letter from the Ohio EPA to ETP lists a litany of problems and violations that have occurred since drilling resumed in September.

The EPA also issued a press release summarizing key aspects of the situation.

Similar problems along the Dragonpipe route have occurred in Pennsylvania since the August settlement here, but Pennsylvania’s DEP has done little. The DEP needs to take similar steps to those in Ohio to shut down drilling in our state. Since the Dragonpipe is classified as “intrastate”, FERC is not involved and the DEP can do this on its own.

The DEP has been issuing “Notices of Violation”, with reminders to ETP to do better. But no amount of cajoling will stop the abuses. Fines won’t work either, because the amounts involved would be trivial in the context of profits in the billions that ETP stands to make once the pipeline is in operation. ETP will happily sign agreements while its destructive construction practices continue unchecked. Only shutting down construction will get ETP’s attention. That’s what is happening in Ohio, and it is what needs to happen here.