The rapid expansion of drilling and fracking fossil fuel wells in the Marcellus Shale region brings with it the midstream and main transmission infrastructure.
These include gathering lines which take the fossil fuel from the well head to midstream pipelines and facilities. Each well, and there may be more than one on each well pad, has its own gathering line.
Midstream and main transmission lines may include compression stations, glycol dehydration plants, metering stations and regulator plants in addition to pipelines.
SURPRISE SURPRISE SURPRISE
Recently, the Williams Company, the 4th largest pipeline operator in the US, experienced 3 accidents in rapid succession between Feb-Apr 2014.
As reported by Bloomberg news “Williams Reviews Safety After Fire, Explosions at Gas Plants“, May 1, 2014:
“Certainly, this has come as a big surprise to our organization,” Chief Executive Officer Alan Armstrong said on a conference call with analysts today. “We are conducting very thorough investigations into each incident to determine if there’s any common or root cause.”
Why it comes as a big surprise to CEO Armstrong is, well, surprising. It’s well known that pipelines and related infrastructure do have spills, leaks, fires and explosions resulting in property damage, injuries and deaths. At a time when fossil fuel corporations are expanding and building new infrastructures and pipelines, safety, not profits, should be the foremost consideration.
Below is a partial list of the more spectacular Williams Co. “surprises” gleaned from news articles:
- 2003 On May 1, a 26-inch Williams Companies natural gas transmission pipeline failed near Lake Tapps, Washington. A neighboring elementary school, a supermarket, and 30 to 40 homes in approximately a 4-mile (6.4 km) area were evacuated. There was no fire or injuries. Land movement was suspected at first, but the failure was later determined to be from Stress corrosion cracking. There were 4 previous failures on this pipeline in the preceding 8 years
- 2003 Another section of the same Williams Companies gas transmission pipeline that failed on May 1, 2003, failed in Lewis County, Washington on December 13. There was no fire this time. Gas flowed for 3 hours before being shut off. Gas pressure had already been reduced 20% on this pipeline after the May 1 explosion. External corrosion and Stress Corrosion Cracking were seen in this failed area of pipe
- 2008 A 30-inch Williams Companies gas pipeline ruptured and gas ignited near Appomattox, Virginia on September 14. 2 homes were destroyed by the fire. External corrosion was the cause of the failure.
- 2011 on June 25, Williams Partners subsidiary, the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, fined $23,800 by PHMSA for failure to conduct annual inspections of natural gas compressor stations in Texas and Louisiana.
- 2011 On December 3, a Williams Companies gas transmission pipeline exploded and burned in Marengo County, Alabama. A 47 foot section of the pipe was hurled more than 200 feet from the failure area. The gas burned for several hours, and a nearby pipeline was damaged. There were no injuries, or serious property damage. External corrosion was the cause of the failure, due to issues with the pipeline coating, the cathodic protection level, and the local soil corrosiveness. As a result of the incident and the subsequent investigation, PHMSA noted that Williams, “has not determined whether the conditions that caused the failure exist on other portions of Transco,” and determined that the continued operation of the Transco pipeline, “would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment.” Moreover, the existing Corrective Action order under which Williams is currently operating is not the company’s first; on Sept. 25, 2008, PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order to the Williams Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corp. in connection with a Sept. 14, 2008, natural gas explosion near Appomattox, Virginia, that destroyed two homes and seriously injured five people.
- 2012, on March 5 Williams Partners subsidiary, the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. LLC fined $50,000 by PHMSA for failure to follow its own, internal policies related to controlling external corrosion in natural gas pipelines running through the New York City borough of Staten Island.
- 2012 On March 29, an employee accidentally left a valve open during maintenance work on a Williams Companies gas compressor station near Springville, Pennsylvania. Later, gas leaked through the valve, causing alarms to evacuate workers in the compressor building. Later, the gas exploded and burned. There were no injuries. It was also found there are no agencies enforcing rules on rural gas facilities in that state
- 2012 On July 23, a compressor station operated by Williams Companies in Windsor, New York was venting gas in a “routine procedure”—during a lightning storm—when the vent was ignited by lightning, causing a fireball “hundreds of feet into the air”
- 2013 On March 22A Williams Companies 24 inch gas gathering pipeline failed in Marshall County, West Virginia. There were no injuries.
- 2013 Late night on May 14, an explosion & fire hit a Williams Companies gas compressor station near Brooklyn Township, Pennsylvania. There were no reported injuries.
- 2013, On May 30, Branchburg, NJ, Williams compressor station explosion, thirteen workers were injured, two seriously
- 2014 March, Williams Northwest Pipeline plant in Plymouth WA, an explosion in March injured five and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents and workers. Shrapnel from the explosion pierced a liquefied natural gas storage tank. A leak in the tank was eventually stanched, but neither Williams nor its federal regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, has explained the cause of the explosion.
- 2014, February-March, Sauvie Island – Portland Oregon, OR, 3 gas leak incidents at gas transfer station, prompted at least three emergency releases of gas to relieve pressure in a pipeline, causing emergency responders in one case to evacuate nearby residents and close a school. The company did not notify neighbors or proactively communicate with them about the ongoing problem at the facility for two months, despite repeated gas releases. Federal safety inspectors did not visit the facility until repeated phone calls from The Oregonian and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., prompted the agency to deputize state regulators to inspect the facility.
- 2014 April, Williams gas processing facility in Opal WY, explosion and fire forced the evacuation Wednesday of the nearby community of Opal and the closure of its gas operations.
According to Tom Droege, Williams Co. spokesperson, as stated in an email, over the last five years, Williams has had a lower rate of incidents on its pipelines than the industry average, he said, citing federal statistics.
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Recently, the FracTracker Alliance updated their database. A year ago, they calculated that there was an average of 1.6 pipeline incidents per day in the United States. That figure remains accurate, with 2,452 recorded incidents between January 1, 2010 and March 3, 2014, a span of 1,522 days.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) classifies the incidents into three categories:
- Gas transmission and gathering: Gathering lines take natural gas from the wells to midstream infrastructure. Transmission lines transport natural gas from the regions in which it is produced to other locations, often thousands of miles away. Since 2010, there have been 486 incidents on these types of lines, resulting in 10 fatalities, 71 injuries, and $620 million in property damage.
- Oil and hazardous liquid: This includes all materials overseen by PHMSA other than natural gas, predominantly crude and refined petroleum products. Liquified natural gas is included in this category. There were 1,511 incidents during the reporting period for these pipelines, causing 6 deaths and 15 injuries, and $1.8 billion in property damage.
- Gas distribution: These pipelines are used by utilities to get natural gas to consumers. In just over 40 months, there were 455 incidents, resulting in 42 people getting killed, 183 reported injuries, and $86 million in property damage.
Droege failed to mention the industrial average was 1.6 pipeline incidents per day, so what does a “lower rate of incidents” really mean?
Does Droege’s statement make you feel safer? It was crafted to do so.
Now that you have an inkling of the larger picture, how safe do you feel?
©2014 by Dory Hippauf