Our construction and operation impacts are defined as the “limits of disturbance” which is the boundary of our regulatory permitted footprint in a location. Within that limit of disturbance there is the potential for the direct loss of biodiversity functions and services of habitat as well as indirect habitat impacts adjacent to a project’s footprint. To protect biodiversity values and avoid net loss within and around our projects, our planning efforts follow the “Mitigation Hierarchy” – a set of guidelines designed to help development projects prepare for impacts by aiming to achieve no net loss of biodiversity. The Mitigation Hierarchy follows avoidance, minimization, mitigation, and offsets to reduce development impacts and control any negative effects on the environment.
Following this hierarchy, our first step is to proactively evaluate potential impacts and pursue a strategy of avoidance, where reasonably practicable; as well as analyze practical and pre-emptive minimization in areas where there is potential for an impact to occur. Where avoidance is not reasonably practicable, we implement restorative mitigation techniques and/or appropriate biodiversity offsets, if required. Our goal is to achieve zero net loss of biodiversity for our operational activities, including any new construction or expansion project.
A Proactive Approach to Evaluating Potential Impacts
It is our goal to safeguard the biodiversity and overall health of ecosystems throughout our operational footprint and ensure these important resources are undisturbed and remain in the same condition as we found them, when reasonably practicable. We acknowledge the responsibility to manage the environmental resources with which we come in contact.
Prior to commencing any construction activities, we evaluate and identify environmentally sensitive areas along the proposed pipeline route and/or facility footprint. Equitrans’ Environmental team leads these efforts in coordination with our Routing & Project Development team. During the routing process, the team aims to maximize project efficiencies and minimize overall project disturbance by considering factors from all project disciplines, including biodiversity and environmental functions. The Environmental team utilizes field visits, publicly available online resources, and information collected from past projects to identify resources designated as high-quality and exceptional value; potential habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species; and cultural/historical resources. This information is considered in our project plans– taking steps to avoid where reasonably practicable, as well as proactively plan activities to minimize any potential biodiversity and environmental impacts.
For example, if a stream or wetland cannot be avoided, we strive to cross the resource perpendicularly and at the narrowest location, as well as efficiently reduce the area of disturbance in the riparian buffer to minimize potential impacts. If a bat habitat cannot be avoided, we try to minimize tree clearing and schedule project activities so that necessary tree clearing happens during designated timeframes, during the winter, when bats are hibernating. Through our pipeline routing and facility footprint design efforts, we are often able to minimize temporary impacts and completely avoid permanent impacts. Once the pipeline route or facility site is confirmed to have met the objectives of the routing process, the permit preparation phase further refines the avoidance and minimization of potential impacts related to the project . The Environmental team employs specialized consultants to conduct field delineations of streams and wetlands, habitat analyses, and geotechnical studies to identify historic landslides and landslide prone areas. The consultants also begin to design temporary and permanent measures to control erosion and stormwater runoff both during and after construction. The permit preparation phase includes coordinating with appropriate regulatory agencies for pre-application meetings to discuss project plans and identification of potential issues. Through ongoing dialogue, the agencies provide guidance to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. After plans are finalized and permit applications are submitted, the Environmental team continues to coordinate with regulatory agencies to answer questions and address concerns during the review process.
Once construction begins, we work diligently to avoid and/or minimize the potential for any negative biodiversity or environmental impacts. Once construction begins, our teams, including all on-site contractors, receive environmental awareness training to ensure they are familiar with both the environmentally sensitive areas along the pipeline route or facility site, as well as with the regulatory requirements and environmental permit conditions for the project. This training also includes the importance of adhering to Equitrans’ environmental policies and practices.
The project’s environmentally sensitive areas and approved limits of disturbance are clearly marked with flagging and signage to ensure necessary avoidance and awareness. In the majority of Equitrans’ construction activities, erosion impacts from earth disturbances are short-term, temporary impacts. Nevertheless, we aim to limit these impacts to the greatest extent reasonably practicable. Prior to earth disturbance activities, we install the appropriate erosion and sediment control (E&SC) Best Management Practices (BMPs) that meet or exceed regulatory requirements. These BMPs are regularly monitored and maintained throughout construction until adequate vegetation stabilization is achieved to prevent erosion. For aquatic resources that cannot be avoided along a pipeline route, we utilize construction crews that specialize in aquatic crossings to further reduce the potential for impacts during pipe installation.
In addition to erosion and sedimentation BMPs, we utilize another proactive and preventative measure to prevent slope failures that could have negative environmental consequences. Equitrans’ Engineering Slope Design Program helps us proactively identify areas where there is potential for a slope failure to occur. Once an at-risk area is identified, we install preventative measures to maintain the stability of the slope.
Although we make every effort to limit any potential impacts, given the nature of our construction and pipeline operations, and the terrain of our operating territory, we realize that both direct and indirect impacts can occur. In most cases, these impacts to terrestrial and aquatic resources are minor and temporary. When impacts occur, we proceed quickly and carefully to remediate them as outlined in our Spill Reporting & Response Procedure.
The Spill Reporting & Response Procedure involves several steps. First, field staff (environmental inspectors, construction manager or inspector, etc.) immediately report data and observations regarding the incident to the environmental coordinator. The environmental coordinator reviews the incident information, together with the project’s specific permit and regulatory requirements and makes a recommendation to legal staff regarding whether the incident (spill, BMP failure, or other non-compliance with permit conditions, etc.) should be reported to the appropriate regulatory agency. The environmental coordinator then conducts a follow-up incident investigation to determine whether the incident was controllable. If deemed controllable, feedback is provided to Construction and/or Operations staff and in-depth discussions help to determine what could have been done differently. If the incident is reportable to an agency, the environmental coordinator places the call and documents the report, attends follow-up site visits, obtains necessary permit approvals, and continues to update agency staff until the issue is resolved and compliance is achieved. The environmental coordinator then provides final documentation of compliance to the agency.
Once a pipeline project is completed and placed into operation, we continue to deploy strategies to protect biodiversity resources along the pipeline’s right-of-way. We strive to meet or exceed regulatory requirements set forth by state and federal regulatory agencies, and we also work closely with property owners to restore their land as close as reasonably possible to original conditions. Additionally, we make every effort to accommodate any special requests or preferences of the landowner, such as fencing, seed mixes, tree species, and areas for heavy equipment crossing. We re-establish contours and revegetate with state-approved, native, riparian, and pollinator seed mixes, and vegetation requested by property owners. We also routinely accommodate property owner requests for topsoil segregation, which preserves removed topsoil for restoration once local work is complete.
Terrestrial and Aquatic Species Enhancements
The most common species of state or federal concern found within our operating areas are bats, mussels, and various plants.
Equitrans will frequently take actions to enhance biodiversity, such as the installation of bat habitat boxes and restoration of riparian habitats, including streams, ponds, and other wetlands that have been affected by our pipeline operations due to their high biodiversity value. By restoring these habitats, Equitrans supports biodiversity through the enhancement of the environment for terrestrial species, and we also minimize the sedimentation that enters riparian areas, which subsequently improves habitat quality for aquatic species. These techniques support local flora and fauna by allowing wildlife movement, restoration or enhancement of pre-existing habitat, and prevention of exotic or invasive species.
Endangered or Threatened Species
Prior to the commencement of operations, we conduct studies to determine whether threatened or endangered species are present in the region. If any threatened or endangered species are identified, we consult with all local, state, and federal wildlife agencies to ensure that operations do not adversely affect these protected species. This is in addition to the actions described above.
To improve environmental performance, incident data, including reportable and controllable determinations, is analyzed for trends. This information is used to guide conversations regarding lessons learned, to address contractor performance, and to update processes and procedures.
We regularly review permit data to identify and define compliance actions as deadlines approach. We also leverage several management systems to track environmental permit authorizations and conditions, document site inspections and observations, and track environmental “punch list” items to ensure we maintain compliance, as well as document incidents and agency notices of violation. These systems help us to compile, sort, and analyze data to identify trends, address issues accordingly, and, where necessary, update procedures to prevent recurrence of actions that have had negative consequences.
Evaluating Our Approach to Biodiversity
Equitrans’ primary operations are in the Appalachian Basin, which means our pipelines and related facilities must carefully traverse inherently valuable natural environments. We work diligently to ensure the approaches we use to protect biodiversity functions and values in these natural environments are as effective as possible. From project initiation to completion, and throughout a pipeline’s operational lifespan, we continually evaluate the ways in which we identify sensitive environmental areas and how we avoid and protect them. Beginning with the design and placement of our pipelines and facilities, it is our goal to avoid permanent impacts to biodiversity resources. We extensively evaluate our actions and seek continuous improvements on an ongoing basis.
In all areas of work across our operating footprint, we are committed to meeting or exceeding all relevant local, state, and federal standards in biodiversity protection. Our approach identifies the potential for direct and indirect impacts to our region’s biodiversity, such as the presence of sensitive, natural resources and species habitats. We pursue objective, science-based and engineering solutions to develop best management practices to preserve, protect, and improve critical biodiverse resources.
As we continue to enhance our work activities and operations related to biodiversity performance, we will report our progress in our annual Corporate Sustainability Report.
Printable PDF file: Biodiversity Statement