Beaver County pipeline explosion: how to prevent future catastrophes; Jacquelyn Bonomo (JB)/PennFuture (PF); Beaver County Times; September 20, 2018.
According to the BCT, “Jacquelyn Bonomo is president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.”
Below is a review of the subject letter.
“Residents of Center Township, Beaver County, narrowly avoided a catastrophe on Sept. 10. A newly constructed natural gas pipeline ruptured, causing a terrifying explosion and fire that destroyed a house and several garages and vehicles.”
[RWC] Before I begin, here are excerpts from a couple of relevant “news” stories. The first excerpt is from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story “Officials believe landslide may have triggered massive gas pipeline explosion in Beaver County:”
“The Beaver County Conservation District was responsible for the pipeline’s environmental permitting and for inspecting whether ETC’s construction had proper erosion and sedimentation controls.
“Jim Shaner, executive director of the Beaver County agency, said the controls were installed as designed ‘but they were not working.’
“There were a number of landslides on steep hills, he said, because of the ‘degree of the slope and the amount of rain’ that has soaked the region over the past year.
“Most were minor, according to Mr. Shaner, but one was big enough to dump debris into Raccoon Creek. After state Department of Environmental Protection officials surveyed the damage, they issued a series of violations to ETC and, in June, came to a settlement that will require the company to monitor restoration of the creek for five years. It includes a $145,250 fine for violations.
“Mr. Shaner said the conservation district’s duty as the environmental permitting agency is to ensure that construction activities don’t pollute streams or wetlands. The agency does not evaluate the pipeline design for safety.”
The second excerpt is from “Pipeline explosion: Part of line shut down during investigation” produced by StateImpact Pennsylvania and The Allegheny Front.
“On Tuesday, investigators from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission were looking into what caused the blast. Officials suspect that heavy rains led to a landslide that caused the pipeline to break and explode.
“‘We believe that may have had an unusual amount of stress in the area on the land that may have possibly contributed to it,’ Daniel said.
“The recently-completed pipeline had already experienced rain-related problems during construction months before.
“The problems with erosion along the Revolution Pipeline were at different parts of the line than where the blast occurred, said Jim Shaner, executive director of the Beaver County Conservation District, which oversees the erosion and sedimentation plans for construction projects in the county. Heavy rain contributed to those issues, he said.
“In June, the company agreed to pay a Department of Environmental Protection fine of $145,250 for discharging ‘sediment-laden runoff’ into Raccoon Creek and an unnamed tributary.
“Shaner said most erosion permits for construction projects are designed to withstand 100-year storms. But he said this weekend’s rains, which dropped more than 5 inches of rain in Beaver County, may have been too much.
“‘When you have rain event after rain event after rain event, stuff’s going to happen,’ Shaner said.”
“Although it’s a great relief that no one was injured, we must still consider what we can do to prevent a similar occurrence, or worse, in the future.
“It’s easy to chalk the explosion up as an accident. The ruptured pipeline was caused by a landslide, an unintentional, chance occurrence. We can’t prepare for that. Not true. If office towers can be built in cities prone to earthquakes, pipeline operators can prepare for landslides and minimize their impact.”
[RWC] True, to a point. We can make office towers and other structures resistant to earthquakes, but we can’t make them earthquake proof.
“In this instance, the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Corporation, had installed the proper erosion and sedimentation controls, but they were not working at the time. That’s what Jim Shaner, executive director of the Beaver County Conservation District, the agency responsible for inspecting ETC’s pipeline construction procedures, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So, lax safety practices by ETC, which also owns the problem-plagued Mariner East 2 pipeline, offset the safeguards in place, assuming those ‘safeguards’ are enough.
[RWC] You’ll note PF paraphrased Jim Shaner (JS) instead of quoting him. There’s a reason.
The PennFuture letter says, ETC “had installed the proper erosion and sedimentation controls, but they were not working at the time.” The implication is the controls were not operating, the result of “lax safety practices by ETC.”
That’s not what JS meant, however. As already mentioned, “Shaner said most erosion permits for construction projects are designed to withstand 100-year storms. But he said this weekend’s rains, which dropped more than 5 inches of rain in Beaver County, may have been too much. ‘When you have rain event after rain event after rain event, stuff’s going to happen,’ Shaner said.” When JS said the controls “were not working,” he meant, though the controls were designed to withstand 100-year storms, the erosion controls were overwhelmed by the duration and volume of rain.
“Erosion and sedimentation controls” are not something you turn on and off. For example, controls include planting groundcover so the resulting plants stabilize the soil. Since the groundcover takes time to grow, additional measures are taken to protect the soil until the groundcover’s root system matures.
“But isn’t a landslide an act of God? Not much we can do to prevent that. Again, not true. The landslide was caused by intense rains during the previous four days. Experts are attributing the heavy rains and flooding we’ve been experiencing this summer to climate change - an act of man. Furthermore, climate science is signaling a much wetter future for our region, so land saturation and flooding from more frequent and more intense rainfall is coming.”
[RWC] PF is correct, a landslide is not an act of God, at least in this situation. That’s probably why when I did a quick search, the only relevant hit I got for someone referring to an act of God was this PennFuture op-ed piece.
Does anyone at PennFuture remember Hurricane Agnes (1972)?
Who are the “Experts … attributing the heavy rains and flooding we’ve been experiencing this summer to climate change?” If you recall, “experts” told us the 2005 hurricane season (Katrina and so on) was the new normal. Instead, we had a relativity mild period for the next 11 years.
Weather and climate tend to be used interchangeably by “experts.” As a result, “experts” cite warmer than normal days as proof of their position. Incredibly, even cooler than normal days are cited as proof of manmade global warming (MGW) because proponents claim weather variability is also a symptom of MGW. It appears there is no weather condition “experts” can’t attribute to MGW.
“No, this near-disaster cannot be dismissed as an accident or an act of God. The real culprit here is bad public policy and misguided economic development investments. For decades, policymakers of both parties have refused to allocate enough funding to the state agencies responsible for permitting and monitoring pipeline construction, and protecting our health and the environment. Furthermore, investing in gas, and not renewable and clean energy, is shortsighted, reckless and, as the Center Township explosion demonstrates, dangerous.
“By failing to take the necessary steps to address climate change, legislators put our communities and climate at risk. Pursuing policies and investments that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and begin to level the playing field between gas and renewables, such as wind and solar, would unequivocally prevent calamities like the one in Center Township.”
“The leading environmental organizations in Pennsylvania are fighting to improve current policies. The Pennsylvania Common Conservation Agenda, an action plan developed by a statewide coalition of more than 25 conservation and environmental groups, contains a number of practical policy solutions for bipartisan bolstering of the state’s clean-energy sector, adequately funding the state agencies responsible for protecting the environment and natural resources, achieving environmental justice for the most-vulnerable communities, improving the quality of drinking water and more.
“Achieving the policy changes called for here is going to require a groundswell of support from Pennsylvanians. With a pivotal election taking place Nov. 6, we need to take our demands for more enlightened, proactive environmental policies directly to the candidates running for governor and the Legislature. All of us must do our part. Visit www.greenin18.org to find out what you can do now to fight for a healthier environment in Pennsylvania.”
[RWC] Blah, blah, blah.
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