Category Archives: Safety

No Significant Concerns?

In 2005, state and federal regulators dismissed warnings from environmental groups and local officials about the risk of catastrophic flooding below a major Northern California dam. Instead, the regulators at the time said they were confident that the hillside at the Oroville Dam that helps hold back hundreds of billions of gallons of water was stable and did not need to be reinforced with concrete. FERC, the agency that oversees the dam’s re-licensing and received the request for armoring, agreed that paving was not needed. State water resources department officials wrote in a final environmental impact report dated June 2008 that no “significant concerns” about the hillside’s stability had been raised in any government or independent review.

In FERC’s DEIS for the ACP, they also say they see no significant concerns. Hmmmm….

Read a February 14, 2017, article about the current problems with the Oroville Dam resulting from the superficial analysis that FERC habitually conducts of projects for which it has responsibility.

The Perils of Rushed Construction

Because the proposed construction schedule for the ACP has been significantly delayed (at least a year behind at this point), Dominion expects to accelerate the construction process when it does begin; some of the construction work, e.g. timbering, will be conducted at totally inappropriate times (see our earlier post). A recent article discusses dangerous flaws in the construction of Spectra’s pipeline expansion project, the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline – part of the same pipeline system that exploded in Salem Township PA in April 2016.

Two former inspectors on the AIM project have described in detail a variety of serious problems during construction that put workers at risk and have long-term dangerous consequences for the pipeline itself and the communities along its route. Among the problems revealed: burying pipes before the weld inspection results can be viewed (normally companies wait until x-ray films are developed and inspected before burying welded pipes), burying pipeline sections with faulty coating, and improper hydrostatic testing. It costs time and money to dig up buried pipe and inspect (or reinspect) it properly, something companies simply don’t want to do.

Pipeline leaks not only pose the risk of catastrophic explosions, they also carry climate changing consequences because of the methane released. Between 2010 and 2015, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, 12.8 billion cubic feet of methane leaked from the nation’s natural gas gathering and transmission lines in nearly 700 incidents, incidents which killed 70 people and injured 300. But since companies can simply pass the cost of leaked gas on to consumers, there is little incentive to proactively hunt for leaks once potentially faulty gas lines are buried.

Worker safety is another thing that is compromised when construction is pushed. “In the rush to build out pipelines nationwide over the last several years, the pipeline accident rate has skyrocketed, according to watchdog groups. Gas pipelines built between 2000 and 2010 had an accident rate of 1.289 per 10,000 miles; pipes laid since then have a rate of 6.64 per 10,000 miles, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust.”

Read the full DeSmog article here.

“Rapid Corrosion” Led to April 2016 Explosion

The Pittsburgh Tribune reports that Spectra Energy officials spoke on September 13, 2016, about the April 2016 natural gas pipeline explosion in Salem Township PA that sent a fireball hundreds of feet into the air, scorched about 40 acres of farmland and severely burned a man living nearby whose home was destroyed. The pipeline that exploded had lost about 30 percent of its steel wall to corrosion four years earlier, Spectra Energy officials said Tuesday. But officials said what was then considered a minor anomaly – a small area flagged for reinspection five years later – corroded at an unprecedented rate that caused the explosion and spurred the company to re-evaluate longstanding industry standards. Spectra officials said they have shortened the length of time between inspections of similar transmission lines from every five years to every three to four years. They will lower the threshold for flagging anomalies for action and will add an additional measurement to the industry standard, officials said. Although Federal officials have yet to issue a determination on the cause of the blast, Spectra officials said they believe a combination of issues affecting weld joints on 40-foot sections of pipe caused the rupture of the line.

“Based on research and engineering practice, we would expect to see corrosion of 2 to 3 percent a year in the worst case. What we saw was upwards of 10-15 percent a year, or about five times what conservative engineering estimates would be based on. It is truly an outlier – not just for Spectra, for the industry,” a Spectra official said.

Factors unique to the explosion site included this: “The gas is a little warmer there, given that it is closer to the compression station.” [Small comfort to our friends in Buckingham County!]

One resident at the town hall meeting with Spectra officials said the explanation sounded plausible, “But in my experience, most if not all of the time, we are not told the truth or the whole truth.” We understand her feeling!

Read the full article here.

“Strong Storms Hang in Our Mountains”

DarkHollowRd-flooding-june2016Following the major flooding in Nelson County on June 2 and June 4-5, 2016, after early summer thunderstorms each dumped 5-7 inches of rain in several hours on parts of the county, flooding was swift, dramatic, and damaging. The photos above of Dark Hollow near East Branch Loop (courtesy of Regina Allen Campbell) show the results of destructive flooding. On behalf of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and its Nelson County chapter, Protect Our Water, Sharon Ponton filed supplemental information on the flooding with FERC, pointing out that such storms are not uncommon in Nelson County, as storms tend to hang over our mountains. Those of you who attended Dominion’s open house events will recall that most of Dominions representatives had never heard of Hurricane Camille.

As the BREDL filing states, “The increased run-off created by clear cutting approximately 350 acres of forested land for the construction and permanent right-of-way (ROW) for the proposed ACP, on very steep slopes, would exacerbate the issues we currently face when strong storms hang in our mountains, dumping tremendous volumes of water in short periods of time. This estimation of acreage clear cut does not include areas for access roads and work areas.

“Forested areas allow some portion of the rain, even in heavy storms, to infiltrate the ground, seeping into springs and the ground, renewing ground water resources. Revegetation of these clear cut acres with grass is ineffective in slowing water run-off on our steep slopes and essentially urbanizes those areas of the mountains. Water bars along the ROW will do nothing to slow 5 to 7 inches of rain in two hours. In the end, the destruction caused by the proposed ACP would put current residents and their homes in danger of increased flooding and mudslides, as well as facing the new health, safety and welfare issues of air pollution, leaks and pipeline explosion. Last year, two pipeline accidents in West Virginia were credited to heavy, flooding rains.”

Dominion doesn’t see flooding as an issue. We hope FERC will.

Read the full filing (with accompanying photos) here.

Dangerous Neighbors: Pipelines, Compressor Stations and Environmental Injustice

CleanWaterNC-report-graphicClean Water for North Carolina has released a great new report, well researched and footnoted, called Dangerous Neighbors: Pipelines, Compressor Stations and Environmental Injustice. While referencing the proposed ACP route in North Carolina, the report is very relevant to Nelson and Buckingham counties. Friends of Nelson President Ernie Reed has submitted the report as a comment to FERC on behalf of Friends of Nelson.

Read the full report here.

The release from Clean Water for North Carolina about the report states, “The U.S. is currently in the midst of an expansion of the natural gas infrastructure that has far outpaced the knowledge of impacts on people and the communities in which they live. With natural gas being touted as the ‘clean’ bridge between coal and renewable energy, regulators and legislated incentives have cleared the way for fossil fuel corporations to profit from the expansion of natural gas infrastructure while communities bear the costs. Now that measures of those costs are becoming clearer, many are calling for the brakes to be applied. This report explores the risks and consequences of this expansion, and how they affect residents and communities.

Highlights from the report:

  • When pipelines and compressor stations and other gas infrastructure are built, they often deliver environmental injustice by changing the physical environment of communities and effectively removing community choice in defining the built environment or the types of energy in which they can invest.
  • Living next to compressor stations is harmful to nearby residents’ health. Proximity to these facilities is associated with nosebleeds, rashes, headaches, and exposure to cancer-causing emissions. Especially along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and near the compressor station planned for Northampton County [NC}, we see potential for disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations.
  • Incidents of pipeline accidents have actually increased, reaching highs not seen since the pre-1940 constructed pipelines, perhaps due to the sheer speed of the expansion without adequate oversight.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has essentially acted as a rubber stamp for pipeline approvals, showing no regard for environmental justice considerations.
  • The new Atlantic Coast Pipeline being constructed by Dominion and Duke Energy is routed to go through 8 counties in North Carolina, most of which have higher than state average poverty levels, as well as high populations of African American or Indigenous residents, or both.
  • Experts are warning that pipelines may quickly become stranded assets, as gas supply or demand dwindles, leaving customers on the hook in the form of higher rates.
  • The expansion of natural gas infrastructure endangers communities worldwide, as we now know the release of methane into the atmosphere is significantly amplifying global warming. It is low income communities and communities of color who will suffer first, and most deeply.”

Pipeline Safety: “High Consequence” and “Evacuation” Zones

blast-zone-stoneycreekThe graphic above illustrates the blast zone for the proposed ACP in Nelson County’s Stoney Creek area. The orange area is the “High Consequence Area,” 1,100 feet on either side of the pipeline, an area within which survival of an explosion would be unlikely. The yellow/green area is the “Evacuation Zone,” 3,583 feet on either side, defined as an area an unprotected human would need to move beyond in order to avoid burn injury in the event of an explosion or fire following a leak.

However, consider the consequences of the late April natural gas 30 inch pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania. There, the explosion of the Spectra line blew a 12 foot deep, 1500 square foot hole and scorched 40 acres. The home of the badly burned man (who as of this date will be in the ICU for several more weeks, and faces a lenghty rehabilitation) was 1500 feet from this much smaller and lower pressure pipeline; the home burned completely. There was significant residential property damage at 1/2 mile from the explosion. In an interview, the Salem Township PA fire chief said there were not many houses close to the explosion and that is what prevented major loss of life. But along the proposed ACP route there are numerous areas where there are many homes – not to mention schools and businesses. Extrapolating from the blast zone of the 30 inch pipeline in Pennsylvania, it is obvious that the projected ACP blast zone as shown in the above graphic is much too narrow.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s order calls for Spectra to uncover and inspect at least two sections of pipeline on either side of what ruptured. If damage is discovered on those sections, “additional pipe must be exposed until at least 10 feet of undamaged pipe is exposed and examined. The company will be required to excavate two sections of the other three lines in both directions from the blast area and examine them for damage.” Just 10 feet for an explosion felt 6 miles away?!

In a meeting with area residents on May 12, 2016, Spectra had little to offer in the way of answers about what happened and why. Residents are understandably frightened and frustrated. The busy highway near the blast is now closed “indefinitely.”

Dominion says the ACP will be safe. That’s what Spectra told people as well.