Ohio sues developer behind Dakota Access Pipeline over pollution issues

State attorney general accuses Rover Pipeline of "harming pristine wetlands."

In this July 12, 2017 photo, muddy water from the construction of Energy Transfer Partners' Rover Pipeline seeps into a creek in New Washington, Ohio.  (CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
In this July 12, 2017 photo, muddy water from the construction of Energy Transfer Partners' Rover Pipeline seeps into a creek in New Washington, Ohio. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against Rover Pipeline, operated and majority-owned by Energy Transfer Partners, for allegedly polluting state waterways as it constructs a 713-mile natural gas pipeline that would transport natural gas from southwest Pennsylvania across Ohio and into Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

The lawsuit against Rover Pipeline, filed on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, comes as Energy Transfer Partners is still facing fallout from its Dakota Access Pipeline, a controversial oil pipeline that sparked massive protests in North Dakota and across the country.

The Rover Pipeline allegedly discharged several million gallons of drilling fluid into wetlands at different locations along the pipeline’s route, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Altogether, the $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline project has been slapped with at least 13 environmental violations by Ohio regulators since construction began earlier this year.

The biggest spill began on April 13, when Rover Pipeline is accused of discharging several million gallons of drilling fluids into wetlands in southwestern Stark County, Ohio.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday by Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine (R) in the Court of Common Please in Stark County, contends that Rover Pipeline’s activities “harmed pristine wetlands in Stark County that require the highest level of protection” and that “Rover failed to secure any water pollution permits designed to control these discharges.”

Whether through “a series of calculated business decisions or complete indifference to Ohio’s regulators efforts, Rover had endangered the environment in more than 10 counties (including Start) and violated state laws, rules, and permits designed to protect the quality of Ohio’s water,” the lawsuit says.

The Ohio EPA also contends Energy Transfer Partners owes the state about $2.3 million dollars in civil fines and damages. In the lawsuit, the attorney general is seeking the court’s permission for the state environmental agency to assess the civil penalties.

In an email to ThinkProgress, Energy Transfer Partners said it has “worked cooperatively” with the Ohio EPA for the past six months to resolve the claims in a way that is satisfactory to all parties involved. “We are therefore disappointed that they have resorted to litigation when Ohio EPA has acknowledged publicly that Rover has complied with all applicable environmental laws,” Energy Transfer Partners said.

Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee, in an email, said Energy Transfer Partners’ statement “is not correct.” Rover Pipeline “has not fully complied” with the agency’s orders, he said. In a September 20 letter asking the Ohio attorney general’s office to begin civil proceedings against Rover Pipeline, the state environmental agency said the pipeline company “has committed dozens of violations of Ohio’s water pollution control laws and air pollution laws.”

The state agency tried to address the violations with the pipeline company, but “despite these efforts, we were unable to come to a negotiated resolution,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said in the letter to the attorney general’s office.

The pipeline company, however, does not believe the Ohio attorney general’s lawsuit will affect its construction timeline. A portion of the Rover Pipeline in Ohio began operating in August. Another phase, starting in Noble County, Ohio, to Harrison County, Ohio, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The entire Rover Pipeline is expected to be in full service by the end of the first quarter of 2018, the company said.

One of the alleged violations led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue a four-month stop on drilling in May under waterways and roads following the release of about 2 million gallons of drilling fluid, a clay and water mix, into wetlands in Ohio. FERC’s ban on drilling was lifted in September.

In April, the construction on the pipeline discharged more than two million gallons of clay-like drilling waste water in Ohio, damaging wetlands. A spokesperson for the Ohio EPA told ThinkProgress at the time that the wetlands would not recover “for decades.”

The list of Energy Transfer Partners’ infractions in Ohio continued to grow. In June, Rover Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, agreed to pay $1.5 million annually for five years to the Ohio History Connection Foundation to compensate for damages to historic properties while constructing the pipeline. In July, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection ordered some construction on the Rover Pipeline in the state to stop, citing environmental violations.

Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline has been operating since June 1, moving oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois.

In October, a judge ruled that Energy Transfer Partners could continue transporting oil on the Dakota Access Pipeline during an ongoing environmental review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling was a blow to the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes of North and South Dakota, whose opposition led to a huge gathering of Native Americans — near the Standing Rock reservation in 2016 and into early 2017 — in protest of the pipeline’s potential impact on the tribe’s water supply.

Last spring, the Dakota Access pipeline system leaked more than 100 gallons of oil in North Dakota in two separate incidents in March as crews prepared the disputed $3.8 billion pipeline for operation.