A Pipeline Moratorium Makes Sense in Pennsylvania (And Elsewhere)

by admin on October 9, 2018

Mariner East 2 Pipeline from OH, WV & PA to export Ethane & Propane

Guest Column: The case for a moratorium on pipeline construction

By Rebecca Britton, Delaware County Times, Swarthmore PA, October 7, 2018

The following is a response to a recent guest column by James Coyle against any moratorium in construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline:

Dear Mr. Coyle:

The pipeline incident in Beaver County is now bringing increased attention to pipeline safety issues. The incident is our worst fears being confirmed. You are correct, residents are concerned about pipelines that pass by our homes, schools and places of business. This month, every day, on the way to my child’s bus stop I smelled mercaptan. That is the additive included in natural gas to ensure our senses keep us safe. My neighbors called our provider and the issue was fixed prior to an ignition event. This is the scary scenario for high-density areas, especially for pipelines whose contents are meant for plastic production.

When Mariner East leaks we are instructed to run on foot, up wind, a half a mile. How will we know when to commence these exercises? Unlike natural gas, “natural gas liquids” are heavier than air and odorless. In all likelihood, a pipeline leak would be small, just like the natural gas one on my street. Imagine this going unnoticed.

We are going a step further, and calling for a statewide moratorium on all pipeline construction. Those of us living with the endless construction, spills, contaminated drinking water, and sinkholes have seen what under-regulated pipeline approvals has created. Legality has eclipsed morality in Pennsylvania when it comes to pipeline construction.

As you know, as a member of Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, not one of your recommendations have been crafted into law. We still have no pipeline siting agency unlike every other state. It is my guess, you as an attorney at Babst Calland, probably enjoy the benefits of this haphazard pipeline buildout. Your firm is heavily entrenched with the most powerful lobby firm in Harrisburg, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Furthermore, your online profile states “(Keith J. Coyle) practice focuses primarily on the regulation of pipelines and the transportation of hazardous materials”.

You wrote, “I understand the anxiety that people feel after a pipeline incident. They want to know that their families are safe, and that the folks in charge are doing what is necessary to protect public safety. Every incident serves as a reminder of the additional work that needs to be done to make pipelines safer.” But by making this statement you leave me with a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Firms like yours, are lobbying our state Senate, pushing legislation like SB652 at a record pace through the House and Senate, making our “community safety coalitions” afraid to plan a peaceful protest. I do not see you pushing legislation to help ensure responsible placement and construction of pipelines though?

Pipelines are a critical part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, thank goodness our nation’s energy needs are met.

These new pipelines carrying the “wet” fracked gas, deliver dangerous materials that are meant to provide feedstock for plastics; and nothing else.

Pipelines might be the safest and most reliable means of transporting energy products. However, Pennsylvanian legislators could be investing in clean, green energy. Instead they are in bed with the likes of you, planning more pipelines. This irresponsible pipeline buildout holds the long term economic vitality of our region in the balance and is unacceptable to residents of southeastern Pennsylvania.

A statewide moratorium, on Mariner East and all pipeline construction, is the only thing that makes sense for our schools, communities and vulnerable populations. Placing colorless, odorless, heavier than air gases within feet of our children is reckless. The ban should remain in place until our legislators remember that their primary duty is to protect the health, welfare, and safety of citizens; and not lobbyists.

One last thought: You might be a Pennsylvanian native; but I live here. You might have lots of fancy job titles in the pipeline industry, but I have something – a love for my neighbors, for the innocent that work or learn in “blast zones,” love for my family. I have an actual vested stake in the outcomes.

I have one more thing you don’t. I have thousands of Pennsylvanian voters with me. You and your friends at the Marcellus Shale Coalition keep trying to bury us, but, what you fail to realize is, we are seeds.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Reid Frazier October 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Natural Gas Pipeline Blast In Pennsylvania Prompts Evacuation

By Susan Phillips, Reid Frazier | September 11, 2018

STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Beaver County resident Chuck Belczyk, who lives across the street from where a natural gas pipeline exploded Monday morning, shot this video of the resulting fire.

A meteor, a plane crash, a helicopter. That’s how residents of a quiet street in western Pennsylvania described an explosion along a brand new natural gas pipeline in the woods behind their homes. The fire shot up 150 feet in the air, damaged power lines, and sent neighbors scrambling out of their homes.

Authorities said the explosion occurred shortly before 5 a.m. near Ivy Lane in Center Township, Beaver County. It destroyed one home about 500 feet from where the blast occurred, prompted evacuations of others and closed an interstate.

Officials said two garages, a barn and several vehicles were also destroyed by fires stemming from the explosion, but crews in the town 35 miles west of Pittsburgh said they were able to move several horses to safety.

One resident of Ivy Lane said the one destroyed home belonged to his neighbors, Sam and Joyce Rosati. Tom Demarco said the couple escaped with a young relative staying with them before the fire destroyed their home.

“They barely got out,” Demarco said. “The wind was pushing (the fire) towards (their) house. And, man it was ugly. It was darn ugly.”

Officials evacuated 25 homes, but let residents back in around 3 p.m. Monday.

Chuck Belczyk said his first thought was that a jet airplane had crashed, but then he heard a hissing sound.

“And that’s when it all hit us what was happening…you knew the pipeline went,” said Belczyk, whose home was one of the 25 evacuated.

“We looked out the window. It was like 12 noon. It was a ball of fire.”

Belczyk’s wife, Eve Lemire, described a scramble to gather what possessions the couple could take with them in the few minutes they had to evacuate. The couple tried to get their four cats inside pet carriers but couldn’t so they had to leave them in the home.

“I don’t sleep with my wedding rings on, so I went back and I took my rings,” Lemire said. “Then we left. We took nothing.”

Pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners says the line was a 24-inch natural gas gathering line called the Revolution pipeline. Gathering lines typically transfer gas from wellheads to a larger transmission line.

The 100-mile long Revolution line was built to feed two major ETP pipelines, the Rover pipeline and the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids line. (Sunoco, which is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline, merged with ETP in 2017). The company said the explosion was detected by its monitoring system. Valves were closed, and by 7 a.m., the fire had burned out, according to Alexis Daniel, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners.

“There were no injuries and the area is secure,” Daniel wrote in an email. “All of the appropriate regulatory notifications have been made. An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline.”

The Revolution line originates in northern Butler County, and began operating on Sept. 3. Both the Rover and the Mariner East 2 lines have been delayed by construction mishaps and environmental violations. The company completed construction on the Revolution line in February, but at the time officials said they were waiting for the completion of the Rover and Mariner East 2 to put it into operation.

Center Township police chief Barry Kramer said he will be asking questions about the safety of the line.

“We will be diligent on holding people’s feet to the fire,” Kramer said, referring to “the future of the line, the safety of the line, and why did this happen.”

Kramer said the explosion felled electric power lines. The Central Valley school district canceled classes. Interstate 376 was closed for several hours due to danger from falling power lines.

Pipeline critics have decried ETP/Sunoco’s track record in building and operating pipelines.

“It appears that ETP in Pennsylvania is following Sunoco’s history as one of the worst operators in the country for safety,” said Lynda Farrell, director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition.

Federal data shows Sunoco Pipeline itself has the industry’s second-highest number of incidents self-reported to federal inspectors over the last 12 years, and the fourth-largest number of federal enforcement actions.

Data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Sunoco Pipeline reported 298 incidents from hazardous liquid, gas transmission and/or gas gathering pipelines nationwide from 2006 to 2018, year-to-date. That was the second-most among 2,152 operators in the agency’s database after Enterprise Crude Pipeline, a carrier of crude oil, which reported 306 incidents. Sunoco also had 175 federal inspections and 35 enforcement actions during the period.

In Pennsylvania, incidents include the leak of 20 barrels of natural gas liquids by the 1930s-era Mariner East 1 line at Morgantown, Berks County, on April 1, 2017, because of “external corrosion.”

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said in an email that the agency tested the air near the explosion on Monday and found “no evidence of gas inside or outside homes.”



Trib Review October 9, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Fire erupts after contractor hits gas line in Bethel Park, in western Penna.

Brian C. Rittmeyer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 3, 2018

A construction crew relocating a water line stuck a marked natural gas line in Bethel Park early Wednesday, triggering an explosion and fire that raged more than hour, officials said.

Employees of Golden Triangle Construction of Imperial were moving a Pennsylvania American Water pipe that was out of service along Clifton Road near Library Road and struck a 4-inch minimum pressure gas line about 2 a.m., according to John Kuchma, Bethel Park’s emergency management coordinator.

One employee of Golden Triangle was injured and transported to UPMC Mercy hospital, he said. The worker’s condition was unknown. A spokeswoman for Golden Triangle declined to comment.

Columbia Gas spokeswoman Sarah Barczyk said workers shut the gas off at 4:05 a.m., which extinguished the fire three minutes later. She said the gas line was clearly marked.

“They hit the line, and when they hit the line there was an ignition, and there was a fire,” she said.

Columbia Gas finished repairs to the line by 4 p.m. and were in the process of restoring service for 23 customers on Clifton Road. Clifton Road remained closed as of Wednesday afternoon.

One home was evacuated because of how close it was to the fire. Kuchma said the blaze damaged mulch, shrubbery and a sign for the Timberidge housing complex.

The state Public Utility Commission has investigators from its pipeline safety division and damage prevention committee on-site, spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said.

“They will be reviewing the incident for issues related to state pipeline safety regulations and PA One Call regulations,” he said.

An Allegheny County fire marshal and representatives of OSHA were looking into the mishap, according to Kuchma.



Associated Press Update October 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

‘It looked like Armageddon:’ Deadly gas blasts destroy homes in Mass.

By PHILIP MARCELO Associated Press, September 14, 2018

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — A series of gas explosions an official described as “Armageddon” killed a teenager, injured at least 10 other people and ignited fires in at least 39 homes in three communities north of Boston, forcing entire neighborhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas.

Authorities said Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died Thursday after a chimney toppled by an exploding house crashed into his car. He was rushed to a Boston hospital but pronounced dead there in the evening.

Massachusetts State Police urged all residents with homes serviced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggled to understand what was happening.

“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told reporters. “There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.

“This is still very much an active scene,” he said. “There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why.”

Early Friday, the utility issued a statement saying its crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection.

“Additional support is being provided by crews from several affiliated Columbia Gas companies and other utilities,” the statement said. “We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers.”

Baker previously said authorities hadn’t heard directly from Columbia Gas, but later called the company’s response “adequate.”

By late Thursday, all of the fires had been doused but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires. Schools in all three communities were canceled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Lawrence resident Bruce Razin was among the evacuees standing outside the Colonial Heights neighborhood near the city’s high school trying to decide what to do next late Thursday.

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights. Razin said he arrived just as residents were being evacuated, and immediately saw the house two doors down was leveled from an explosion.

“I couldn’t imagine if that was my house,” said Razin, who purchased his home nearly two years ago. “It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”

With a backpack filled with personal items he had hastily grabbed, he said he’d head to his mother’s home a few towns over for the night.

In Lawrence, a man whose neighborhood was among dozens that erupted in fire says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing. Resident Ra Nam says he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4:30 p.m. EDT Thursday.

When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out. Minutes later, Nam said he heard a loud boom from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook. Nam said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house but the basement was on fire.

Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 victims, including at least one in critical condition.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened.

Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not return calls.

Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.

“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”

Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts. At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.

Soon after the first fires, Lawrence City Councilor Marc Laplante was warning residents in the Colonial Heights neighborhood to evacuate but said traffic had become a problem.

“People need to get out of this area safely,” he said at the time. “It’s really difficult because the traffic right now is horrendous.”

Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen, said 20 to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence when he responded to help. He said there are so many fires “you can’t even see the sky.”

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border. Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

“Lawrence is a very resilient community. We’re going to get through this together,” Mayor Dan Rivera told reporters as emergency lights illuminated smoke in the night sky nearby.

Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the U.S. in recent years:

— A buildup of natural gas triggered an explosion and fire that killed seven people in apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2016.

— In 2014, a gas explosion in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood killed eight people and injured about 50. Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay $153 million to settle charges after the state’s Public Service Commission found Con Ed violated state safety regulations. A gas leak had been reported before that blast.

— A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state’s largest gas utility was fined by regulators who called the company’s safety record “downright alarming.”

— In September 2010, a Pacific Gas and Electric gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.



Marie Cusick October 10, 2018 at 5:46 pm

We’re Wired to be Wary of Certain Things. Here’s Why Pipelines are Among Them

From an Article by Marie Cusick, State Impact Penna., September 27, 2018

Dangerous incidents involving pipelines are rare, but September has been a bad month.

Pipeline explosions rocked communities near Pittsburgh and Boston — causing evacuations, destroying homes, injuring dozens of people, and killing a young man.

‘Pipelines are Imposed on us’

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a pipeline-building boom, and the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids line is supposed to come online soon. It’s created a lot of controversy — and fear.

“You’re aware it’s there. You just go about your day, like all the other things that could befall a person: a car accident, a lightning strike, a terrorist attack,” said Phil Stober, an organic farmer living next to the pipeline in Lebanon County. “It’s just one more element to think about.”

He said he laughed out loud when the company building it sent him a mailer with its safety instructions. While he may not be able to see or smell a leak, Sunoco Pipeline warned he must avoid creating any kind of spark — even by ringing a doorbell — and head upwind, away from a cloud of highly flammable things like ethane, propane, and butane.

“The information you get from Sunoco is don’t start your car, don’t use your cell phone. Just run away,” Stober said.

Many things play into how people perceive risk, according to David Ropeik, who has studied some of the biggest fear factors. Pipelines hit on a lot of them. For one thing, he says, people rarely get to choose whether a pipeline will run through their property.

Companies like Energy Transfer Partners (the parent company of Sunoco) are often granted eminent domain.

“It’s not the odds of dying. It’s the nature of how you get dead. Being blown up or burning to death carries the awfulness factor.”

“Pipelines are imposed on us,” Ropeik said. “We don’t volunteer to have one built under our house, or near our house. If we did, we wouldn’t be as afraid.”

The Mariner East project is part of a set of export pipelines — so a lot of Pennsylvanians are being asked to live next door to something that may not bring them benefits, but carries a risk.

Energy Transfer Partners would not discuss the issue for this story. However, spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger emailed information about how the company works to train first responders and wrote that “pipelines, with their proximity to civilization, have a very good track safety record.”

>>This series is part of the series “Mariner East 2: At What Risk?”

The Dread Factor

But if something goes wrong, it could be devastating.

“We over-fear low probability risks, if they cause us to die in really nasty ways,” Ropeik said. “We freak out about shark attacks. They’re not likely to happen.”

Researchers call this the dread factor. On average, sharks kill about six people globally each year. Although rare, it does happen: a 26-year-old man was killed this month while boogie boarding off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In the U.S., pipelines have killed average of 17 people per year, and injured 65 per year, over the past two decades, according to federal data.

“It’s not the odds of dying,” Ropeik explained. “It’s the nature of how you get dead. Being blown up or burning to death carries the awfulness factor.”

As a former journalist turned author and consultant, Ropeik has advised groups including the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and pipeline companies about how humans perceive risk. He says it also matters if we trust the other people involved.

“If a risk comes from somebody we trust it won’t bother us as much, as if it comes from somebody we don’t trust,” he said. “And the fossil fuel industry has been painted as super, uber bad guys.”

A Sense of Control

Situations can also seem scarier if we don’t feel in control, according to Stephen Broomell, an associate professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. He gives the example of flying in an airplane (which is, statistically, a very safe thing to do) versus driving in a car. Fatal crashes kill tens of thousands of people on U.S. roadways every year.

“When you’re driving a car you have the wheel in your hands, you may feel like you’re such a great driver that you can remove yourself from dangerous situations,” he said.

But even the best driver can’t control the behavior of other people on the road.

“And it’s that feeling of control that’s the key,” Broomell said. “It’s not about whether you’re actually in control.”

It also matters whether a risk feels familiar or unfamiliar. The less people know about something, the scarier it can seem. But “riskiness” often means more to people than simply looking at the probability of fatalities. No matter what the statistics are, Broomell says people need to be heard.

“The perceptions people have should be treated as valid,” he said. “What we need to understand is why they feel that way, before we can figure out if it’s right or wrong to feel that way.”

Despite the risks, there are many clear benefits to pipelines. The products they carry heat homes, powers factories, and generate electricity.

On his Lebanon County farm, Stober is not happy about the Mariner East pipeline, and he joined a local group fighting it. But he said he doesn’t lay awake at night over the possibility of it hurting him personally. He’s more worried about the bigger global threat of burning fossil fuels: climate change.

“That’s what really troubles me,” he said. “It’s cooking the planet right now.”




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