Jan 20

Governor Files for “Intervenor” Status on Spectra Energy’s Pipeline;

Says, “The State has serious concerns with … pipeline”

Jersey City Mayor Files for “Intervenor” Status;

Says, “Project is inconsistent with … public interest”

Question:  With Spectra Energy’s Performance Record

(Explosions, Multi-million Dollar Fines, etc.)

Why Would Federal Government Approve it for ANY Pipeline Project?

It’s deep tapioca time in New Jersey for Spectra Energy’s proposed ‘natural’ gas transmission pipeline through two counties and three cities before reaching Manhattan.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – via the state’s Department of Environmental Protection – has filed for intervenor status along with Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy.

Intervenor Standing – Smart Strategy & Tactic

In plain words, intervenor standing is a seat at the table for communities and individuals who oppose a pipeline proposal filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

As this blog has previously reported, only individuals, municipalities and public officials who seek intervenor standing can be part of the federal process.  So it is a significant strategic and tactical step.

In the words of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin:  “As an intervener, the DEP will participate in the FERC proceeding and work to prevent any adverse impact on safety, transportation, the environment, economic development, homeland security and other key issues of importance to the State.”1

Adverse Environmental & Economic Impacts

In DEP’s formal “Notice of Intervention and Motion to Intervene,” it states:  “… the project as proposed could have adverse environmental and economic impacts on New Jersey and its residents.”2

In Jersey City’s intervenor filing with FERC, it states that, “… the project is inconsistent with the public interest.”3

The Jersey City filing makes several points (emphasis added):

  • “… Jersey City has been designated by the United States Department of Homeland Security as one of seven Tier 1 urban regions considered to be at the highest risk of terrorist activity …. Yet, the [Spectra Energy] Application does not address the implications of locating a pipeline in close proximity to these high risk areas.”  [See page 3 of filing, pdf file is in footnote 3 below.]
  • “Construction of the pipeline will require excavation of thirty contaminated sites … which increases the risk of human exposure.”  [See page 4 of filing.]
  • “The [Spectra Energy proposed] project’s metering station, one of which will be located in downtown Jersey City, will emit pollutants and foul air quality.”  [Page 4 of filing]
  • “… construction of the proposed pipeline may damage or potentially contaminate the City’s extensive sewage and water systems.”  [Page 4 of filing.]

Spectra Energy is a company with a long track record that substantiates an ignorance of risk where the public is concerned.  Instead it invests heavily in PR platitudes or “butter jobs” designed to distract officials and communities from the company’s actual performance history.

For a summary of the company’s demonstrated performance record, check out the highlights in this recent post:  Spectra Energy – Again at this link: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=964

Note that all of the references are backed up by public sources.  Yet Spectra Energy declines to address why its history of explosions, multi-million dollar fines and other failures is not a predictor of future performance.

If any individual were applying for a job with the same risk-filled background as Spectra Energy – no one would let such an individual – or this company – near ANY project, let alone a sensitive one.

Where is Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on this issue?

Links & Resources

1 Christie Administration Protects New Jersey’s Interests; Intervenes in Spectra Pipeline Case – Press release issued by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on January 14, 2011.  Link: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/newsrel/2011/11_0006.htm Or pdf file: njdep-news-release-11_p6-christie-administration-protects-new-jerseys-interests

2 Notice of Intervention and Motion to Intervene by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – 3-page document filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Docket No. CP11-56-000) on January 14, 2011.  Pdf file:  nj-dep-2-ferc1-14-11

3 Motion of Jersey City to Intervene in Opposition and for Thirty-Day Extension of Time to File Comments - 7-page document filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Docket No. CP11-56) on January 11, 2011.  Pdf file: city-of-jersey-citys-motion-to-intervene-1-11-2011

Fighting a gas pipeline in your community? Go to school on the excellent work done by NO GAS PIPELINE in Jersey City.  Here’s the link: http://nogaspipeline.org/

In addition, read the advice from Dale Hardman, Jersey City resident and co-founder of NO GAS PIPELINE at this link:  Pipeline or ‘Pipe Bomb?”http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=909

Jun 23

Shale Gas Summit Draws 100-plus Activists

To Launch Collective Grass Roots Effort in New York State;

Goal:  Protect New York State & Neighbors

from Risks of “Chemo-fracking”

A summit aimed at launching a collective grass roots effort to challenge the shale gas industry and indifferent government regulators drew more than 120 activists to Binghamton, New York, for a day-long work session on Saturday, June 19.

Sponsored by the Coalition to Protect New York, the event offered participants a powerhouse agenda that covered a wide range of issues including legal, economic, information gathering, lobbying, the latest science and more.

A tightly packed agenda offered an impressive list of speakers and panelists who included:

  • Weston Wilson – a well-known environmental engineer from the EPA (retired) who spoke about the risks of contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
  • Walter Hang – president of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, NY, which is an environmental database firm that has generated clean-up initiatives for polluted sites often ignored by government and corporate officials.
  • Tony Ingraffea – Cornell University professor of engineering and director of Cornell Fracture Group who asked the participants whether they wanted to play “offense or defensive” on the issue.
  • Several attorneys addressed environmental-legal issues including Rachel Triechler, who spoke about what local governments can do with regard to zoning restrictions and deep disposal injection wells; and Joseph Heath, general counsel for the Onondaga Nation, who spoke about the combined political and legal work involved in demanding accountability from government.

Attendees representing more than 40 groups and blogs came from New York State, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Withdraw dSGEIS

Among the immediate goals is to petition New York Governor David Paterson to withdraw the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Marcellus Shale draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) for Oil and Gas Mining.

The petition now contains nearly 10,000 signatures.  To read or sign it, log onto Toxics Targeting website at this link: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/coalition_letter

The draft impact statement (dSGEIS) was made public by the DEC in September 2009.  It is a supplement to the 19-year old State Environmental Quality Review Act.  Critics, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), believe the draft impact statement needs to be expanded in order to take into account the reality of the adverse effects of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment.

In a letter to the DEC in December, John Filippelli, Chief of the Strategic Planning and Multi-Media Program Branch of EPA’s Region 2, said:

“… we have concerns regarding potential impacts to human health and the environment that we believe warrant further scientific and regulatory analysis. … EPA recommends that these concerns be addressed and essential environmental protection measures established prior to the completion of the … process.”1 (For pdf file of EPA letter to DEC, see “Links & Resources” below.)

Walter Hang, president of Ithaca, New York-based Toxics Targeting, told this blog that the DEC draft is “fatally flawed” yet “DEC is pushing as hard and as fast as they can to adopt the draft SGEIS.  They have said it might happen by the end of the year.”

DEC Does Not Count All Spills?

Hang has challenged the DEC that it is either not counting – or it is undercounting – scores of sites and examples of contaminated drinking water from natural gas wells in the state.

In an April 2 letter to DEC Commissioner Alexander “Pete” Grannis, he wrote [emphasis added]:

“I subsequently learned the [DEC] spills database does not include natural gas problems reported to health authorities in the three counties with the highest number of oil and gas wells in New York State.  I also learned DEC’s Division of Mineral Resources does not report all oil and gas releases to the Division of Spills.” Link: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/documents/dec-letter

Based on New York State’s poor track record for regulating gas drilling, Hang says three steps are necessary:

1) DEC should immediately withdraw its draft SGEIS;

2) Reopen discussions regarding the scope of the regulatory proceeding; and

3) Revise the SGEIS draft to respond to the reality of documented natural gas hazards.

Following are photos from the conference.  See also the list of additional “Links & Resources” below.

More than 100 participants from three states attended the event in Binghamton, NY, to hears speakers such as Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

More than 100 participants from three states attended the event in Binghamton, NY, to hears speakers such as Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Several attorneys addressed legal-environmental issues at the summit; and Jack Ossont (yellow T-shirt) captured key ideas (which have been digitally erased).

Several attorneys addressed legal-environmental issues at the summit; and Volunteer Jack Ossont (yellow T-shirt) captured key ideas (which have been digitally erased).

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, uses an environmental database to drive clean-up initiatives of polluted sites often ignored by government.

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, uses an environmental database to drive clean-up initiatives of polluted sites often ignored by government.

Mike Bernhard, Laurie Spaeth respond to questions about tracking & gathering information while Walter Hang listens.

Mike Bernhard, Laurie Spaeth respond to questions about tracking & gathering information while Walter Hang listens.

Weston Wilson, well-known environmental engineer from EPA (retired), spoke about the risks of contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

Weston Wilson, well-known environmental engineer from EPA (retired), spoke about the risks of contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

Links & Resources

1 U.S. EPA (Region 2) Letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding agency’s comments on DEC draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement.  3ppepa-dec09-letter-hl2

Coalition to Protect New York (CPNY) – Describing itself as a group of “regular people who give a damn,” CPNY says, “Our mission is to build a strong, unified, and unbeatable force to stop the dangerous practice of fracking for methane gas unless and until it is proven risk-free and harmless to our environment, health, and property.”  Website:  www.coalition2protectny.org

Toxics Targeting – Based in Ithaca, New York, Toxics Targeting tracks environmental data from government and other sources and maps the impact of pollution.  The company’s work has been featured in The New York Times, MSNBC, and other news outlets.  Walter Hang, president of the company, has challenged regulators like New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation that it is not counting or it is undercounting examples of drinking water contamination from natural gas wells.  Website: www.toxicstargeting.com

Chenango Delaware Otsego Group (CDOG) – This group offers two excellent resources:  www.GasMain.org is an “index” website that helps a wide variety of groups “improve their outreach to the general public by reducing advertising costs and increasing message options.”  Another CDOG site is http://www.un-naturalgas.org/ which takes the position that “there is nothing natural about what the methane extraction process … does to water, air, & living things.”  The website provides information and resources on a range of issues from hydraulic fracing to eminent domain, well spacing, and health issues.

EARTHWORKS – describes itself as a “non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the destructive impacts of mineral development, in the U.S. and worldwide.”  It works with “communities and grassroots groups to reform government policies, improve corporate practices, influence investment decisions and encourage responsible materials sourcing and consumption.”  One resource worth evaluating is a 6-page booklet for citizens and elected officials looking for examples of how to improve the oil & gas industry’s current approach to drilling.  It includes recommendations for environmentally friendly drilling technology to transparency on industry practices.  As the report states:  “We support drilling right in Texas: responsible energy development that protects private property owners, water, the environment, and public lands while enabling energy production.”  Here is a pdf file of the document:  drill_right_texas_final Website: http://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=444

Jun 9
Fort Worth
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Property Owner Fights Solo Battle for 2 Years

Against Eminent Domain by Chesapeake Energy;

Company Defends Use of Eminent Domain, But

Is a ‘Happy Ending’ in the Works?

Fighting eminent domain – especially against energy companies – is an act of heroism.

Property owners like Steve Doeung are heroic and inspirational.

Doeung and his fellow residents on Carter Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas, have been staring down the barrel of a 16-inch-diameter gas pipeline that Chesapeake Energy planned on ramming under their front yards with the power of eminent domain.

The company defends its eminent domain action and says it “fully investigated 12 different routes in its effort to connect” two urban gas wells with a pipeline.  “At the time, the Carter Avenue route was the least impactful,” the company told this blog.

Never mind the fact that there is an established easement near I-30 that could be used with less “taking” of private property that comes with eminent domain.  That alternative route is now being actively pursued, according to the company.

Residents learned about the pipeline project in the spring of 2008.  By August of 2008, the company moved to condemn Steve Doeung’s property.  He has been fighting almost single handedly ever since.

Family Fled ‘Killing Fields’

Doeung’s story is classic American.  His family fled Cambodia to escape the genocidal terror campaign launched by the Khmer Rouge.  The Khmer Rouge was the totalitarian ruling party in that country from 1975 to 1979.

According to various reports, they were responsible for the deaths of between 850,000 to 2.5 million Cambodians in just four years.  “The Killing Fields” is a phrase that refers to this reign of terror; and a British film of that name was released in 1984.

Against this horrific background, Steve’s family came to this country when Steve was 10-years old, and settled in Fort Worth, Texas.

Fort Worth:  Where Property Rustling is In

In the spring of 2009, I was contacted by Steve via this website.  His greeting was what I came to understand as classic Steve:  “Howdy from Fort Worth, Texas (formerly ‘where the West begins’ but now ‘where property rustling is in’) ….”

His advice back then stands today:  Take action; do not depend on the kindness of strangers from the gas companies or the government.  Or La-Gas-anostra, he quips.

As Steve says, “Unfortunately, most people are just like me when this project started – not taking the time to be knowledgeable and take action, until it comes right up to your front door.  Instead of being proactive early, I ended up on defense.  The alternative is to surrender, like many of my neighbors.”

Ironically, part of Steve’s motivation is seven words from the Declaration of Independence:  “… Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It may sound hokey, but Steve is eloquent about his motivation:  “As a grateful, first-generation immigrant and naturalized American citizen, I value and take seriously these words and the principles they represent.”

He acknowledges that, “I am not inclined to be an activist per se, but not doing my best to protect my family and neighbors – near and far – is not an option.”

Solo Fight

With all the corporate and political forces arrayed against him, Steve’s fight was the subject of a fascinating profile in Fort Worth Weekly, by Jeff Prince.  Here is a pdf file of the article: he-wont-pipe-down-fort-worth-weekly

In his detailed article, Prince explains how the practice of eminent domain has been corrupted by power:

“Energy companies years ago determined that their pipeline subsidiaries could claim the right of eminent domain, as utilities or ‘common carriers.’ They can force owners to sell easements on private property, even if other easements owned by other companies are available nearby.  The practice has drawn vehement criticism from property owners, rural and urban, across the state, and critics say the companies abuse their eminent domain powers to take more land than is often necessary.”

Single handedly, Steve Doeung has accomplished the incredible.  He has held off Chesapeake Energy for two years, generated news coverage that made the public aware of what was happening on Carter Avenue at the hands of Chesapeake Energy, and even gathered some political support — in a gas company town, yet!

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis told this blog:  ”… even though the state Department of Transportation and the pipeline company (Mid-Stream) and drilling company (Chesapeake) have reached agreement on an alternative route for the pipeline, Chesapeake continues to press forward in its eminent domain proceedings against Mr. Doeung.  I think this is unconscionable and I have indicated my feelings about this to Chesapeake.  It is beyond comprehension to me why, at the very least, Chesapeake would not at least be willing to ‘stand down’ and delay hearings on eminent domain while the agreement with TXDoT [Texas Department of Transportation] is fine tuned and moves forward.”

Chesapeake Now Pursues Alternative Route

That may, in fact, be what is happening now.  According to Brian Murnahan, Communications Manager for Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the Texas Department of Transportation approved the company’s recent proposal to install a portion of the pipeline along the alternative I-30 route.

As Murnahan told this blog, “It looks very positive that the whole street [Carter Avenue] will be avoided.”

But Chesapeake’s Communications Manager notes [emphasis added], “While we are delighted that the I-30 route is now possible, it still does not eliminate all private property crossings.  The advantage of this route is that it can use public right-of-way for much of the route and fewer private properties.”

The company “is optimistic that pipeline construction along the new alignment could begin as early as this fall and the proposed route along Carter Avenue would be rendered moot,” Murnahan stated.

As baseball legend Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  But reducing the impact of eminent domain on private property is a step in the right direction; and certainly qualifies as being in the public good.

Steve Doeung at court house in Forth Worth.

Steve Doeung at court house in Forth Worth.

Dec 2

Betting on the Marcellus Play:

Gas Royalties in Your Future?

How ‘Bout Clean Water?

Choose Wisely

Landowners and communities are raising questions about the problem and the opportunity of drilling the gas-rich Marcellus Shale.

The Marcellus Shale is generally described as a geological formation about 8,500 feet below the surface of the earth that runs through Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio.  Technology such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing now make it profitable to extract gas from this formation; and experts say there is a lot of gas there.

But while a multi-million dollar national advertising campaign by the energy industry touts natural gas as the clean burning fuel, the process for getting natural gas out of the ground is far from clean.

So folks are looking for advice:  To drill or not to drill … to lease or not to lease?  What can I expect from potential drilling activities on my property, if I decide to lease?

As one property owner said, a lot of people want to bet on the “Marcellus Powerball” and hope they win the lottery in the form of lucrative royalty payments from a gas lease.

But hope isn’t a strategy, and daydreams aren’t reality.  So landowners and public officials must educate themselves and choose wisely; because whatever decision you make, you will own the consequences – good or bad.

The Marcellus Shale with its hydraulic fracturing and chemical stew is a high-stakes game.  Never bet what you can’t afford to lose.  Like clean water, property value, health.

Educate Yourself & Talk to Your Neighbors

There are lots of information resources out there, but where do you look among industry, government and academic sources to name three.  Consider all of these but always ask yourself, “What is in this organization’s self interest?”

And listen to the voice of landowners who have been through the experience.

Here’s a quick look at two resources – academic and landowners who have been there, done that.

First, check out a report published this year on “the impact of Marcellus Shale gas extraction.”  It is an illustrated, easy-to-read tutorial on what to expect.

Titled, Hancock & The Marcellus Shale, the 40-page booklet was produced by a graduate seminar at Columbia University’s Urban Design Program in the Spring of 2009.  It is available as a downloadable pdf file: <http://www.osiny.org/custom/HancockAndTheMarcellusShale.pdf>

The title refers to Hancock, NY, a village near the northeast corner of the Pennsylvania border.

The report acknowledges that the opportunity to sign natural gas leases and receive royalty payments looks good to many property owners.  That money “would allow for mortgages to be paid off, children to go to college and lifelong dreams to be realized,” the document notes.  ["You Decide" - p. 34 of print document; p. 38 of pdf file]

It begins with a sobering assessment:  “Today, extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale … does not even receive the same level of review required by [the village of] Hancock [NY] for a single residential dwelling plan where local, State and Federal criteria must be met regarding well, septic and adjacent wetland.” ["Preface" - p. 1 of print document; p. 5 of pdf file]

Among the issues, according to the report:

1) How much water do you have – A single, typical horizontal well in the Marcellus Shale will require from 1.5 million to 9 million gallons of water during the 4-6 weeks of hydraulic fracturing that takes place.  ["Water Withdrawal," p. 10 of print document; p. 14 of pdf file]

2) One-third or more of that water becomes contaminated waste water – “Typically, 30 to 40% of the water used for drilling and fracturing returns to the surface highly contaminated.”  The contamination includes toxic fracking chemicals, metals, suspended solids, oil and grease.  ["Waste Water & Disposal," p. 10 of print document; p. 14 of pdf file]

According to the report – as some landowners already know – “gas companies will likely pump waste water into on-site pits to evaporate in the open air.  These pits are constructed with plastic liners, susceptible to punctures and often overflow during heavy rainfall.”  ["Waste Water & Disposal," p. 10 of print document; p. 14 of pdf file]


Dimock, PA – Landowners’ Nightmare

Coincidently, the report also devotes several pages to Dimock, PA, which is across the Delaware river and about 35 miles from Hancock, NY.  Dimock is a textbook example of what you don’t want to happen on your property or in your community.

A 23-page consent order filed November 4, 2009 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) cites Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation for “unlawful conduct” that includes:

  • Exploding water wells
  • Polluting fresh ground water and drinking water
  • Improper and/or insufficient cement well casings which allow natural gas to migrate where it should not go (into homes and water wells)
  • Discharge of drilling mud, an “industrial waste,” onto the ground or into the water

Among other actions, Cabot was ordered to:

  • Provide the affected residents with “water in amounts sufficient to continually satisfy water usage needs until … [the DEP] has determined that the … Water Supply has been restored ….”
  • Correct the improper well casings and cement in order to stop gas migration
  • Civil penalty of $120,000 with the possibility of additional fines

Details and a copy of the DEP consent order can be found on the website of the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), a grassroots group in Damascus, PA.  Link: http://www.damascuscitizens.org/aquifer-contaminated.html

Energy Companies & Marcellus

Energy companies are also betting on the Marcellus Powerball.

For example, Spectra Energy recently announced a “binding agreement” between its Texas Eastern pipeline division and Range Resources (“the leading Marcellus Shale producer”) to move Appalachian natural gas “to premium markets in the Northeast.”

Press Release Link: http://investors.spectraenergy.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=204494&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1355645&highlight=

You can bet these companies act only in their own self interest – never mind the community relations platitudes gas companies love to use with landowners and public officials.

Test your water before they bring a single piece of equipment on your property.  Invest in an evaluation of your water that includes testing for any byproducts related to gas operations.  You’ll want proof of the baseline quality of your water, if it changes later.

One property owner told me that such a test cost him $900.  This is an important investment in your property and your health.  Any property with contaminated water is a nightmare scenario.  And don’t let the gas company do the testing for you.

Never Confuse a Business Acquaintance with a Friend

At the end of the day, if you decide to sign a drilling lease, remember this is a business transaction.  It is not about making a new friend who is going to give you money and leave your property in pristine condition.

Do not behave like white meat on the turkey because the gas companies and their landmen will pick you and your property clean.  Be as tough minded as they are (even behind their buttery smiles).

After all, they are not doing you any favors.  You own the key asset they covet. Make them earn it; and do everything you can to protect your property and your health.

Ask about (and investigate) the company’s track record, because they are going to be “living” on your property.  You want more information than what is in their glossy brochures.  Tell them to identify in writing their top three environmental and safety penalties in your state and nationally (including any that are under investigation where penalties have not yet been decided).

If they say they have none — make them put that in writing too.  Full disclosure is what you are after.

Make sure your lease is very specific about the protection of your property; about what the gas company can do on your property and what it cannot do; where it can operate equipment and where it cannot operate equipment.

Contact landowner groups through their websites (see “Links & Resources” below).  Download and read the report from Columbia University, Hancock & the Marcellus Shale.

Arm yourself with information so you are in a position to make the best decision on behalf of yourself, your family and your property.  Once you sign the lease, the time for any amendments or changes is over.

Links & Resources

Worth reading: Hancock & The Marcellus Shale, 40-page booklet from Columbia University’s Urban Design Program, published in the Spring of 2009.  Easy-to-read, illustrated report on what to expect.  Available as a downloadable pdf file: <http://www.osiny.org/custom/HancockAndTheMarcellusShale.pdf>

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS): The home page of an active and well organized grass roots group working to protect the upper Delaware Basin Watershed: http://www.damascuscitizens.org/index.html

Four steps to consider before signing a gas lease – based on a 1st person radio interview on WHRW-FM, Binghamton University:http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=455

Industry Lobbying, Public Relations & Advertising:  IRS Disclosures Show Extent of Oil & Coal Groups’ Outreach (November 18, 2009).  The industry is telling its story, that’s why it’s important to listen to the voice of landowners.http://www.eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2009/11/18/1

Nov 5
Spectra Promises
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Spectra Energy’s Response to DEP’s Notice of Violation:

Promises to do what it should have done by law, next time;

5 Recommendations for Penalties

Spectra Energy promises to follow the law the next time there is an emergency at its huge Steckman Ridge underground gas storage field, located in Bedford County, PA.

The company’s recent “unlawful conduct” violated air quality and clean stream regulations of the Pennsylvania Code, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The DEP issued a “Notice of Violation” to the Houston-based company on September 16.  It required Spectra Energy to respond in 15 days with “a detailed summary of the events that caused the malfunction, emissions and reporting failures as well as Steckman Ridge’s plan to prevent future occurrences.”  [Emphasis added.]  [See pdf file below under "Links & References.]

Spectra Energy’s October 2 two-page response to the DEP offered what could be viewed as a surprise plan to avoid future “reporting failures.”  It offered a “new reporting procedure” in the event of another emergency at its Steckman Ridge underground gas storage field. [See pdf file below under "Links & References.]

The crux of its plan appears based on a promise to follow the law next time!  On August 23, when the nearly 5,000 horsepower compressor station shut down following a gas leak:

  • Pennsylvania Code already requires companies to report emergencies to the DEP by telephone within two hours of an incident.  Spectra Energy failed to do that, but now promises it will follow the law next time.
  • Pennsylvania Code already requires companies to follow up with a written report of the incident to DEP within three days.  Spectra Energy failed to do that, but now promises it will follow the law next time.

In a curious (next-to-the-last) paragraph in its report to DEP, the company wrote [emphasis added]:

“In addition to the above [technical steps], we have implemented a new reporting procedure for any future emergency shutdowns to address malfunction reporting issues.  The procedure requires immediate reporting to PA DEP by telephone of all emergency shutdown gas releases, regardless of any associated oil release.  A written report of such instances of malfunctions will be submitted to PA DEP within three days of the incident.”

Essentially, the company’s “new reporting procedure” boils down to a promise to follow the law next time.  With all due respect to the executive team responsible for this $5 billion company, one wonders how much time was spent around the legal and environmental conference table in order to brainstorm such “a new reporting procedure.”

With homage to Mad Magazine’s “Scenes We’d Like to See”

Picture little Johnny Steckman excitedly waving his hand in the air.  “I’ve got it, I’ve got it,” he burbles.  “How ‘bout if we tell ‘em next time we’ll follow the law – but we call it a New Reporting Procedure?”

Next, regarding Spectra Energy’s plan “to minimize the potential for a recurrence” of the emergency shutdown, the company identifies five engineering or mechanical steps it has taken.  (See page two of the “Steckman Ridge” response in the pdf file below.)

A source familiar with gas operations offered this blog the following comments, based on reviewing the Spectra Energy report and his own experience in the field.  He has not visited the Steckman Ridge storage field.

He speculates, for example, that more was involved in the emergency shutdown than a “cracked pipe fitting.”

“I believe the root cause of the compressor station shutdown and release of natural gas, oil and liquid into the atmosphere was due to liquid shutting down the system — an overload slug of liquids/oil from those wells.  In other words, they got a big slug of liquid at the compressor and it automatically shut down to prevent damage.  Then the station piping blew down, and all the liquids that were in the piping vented to the atmosphere.

“The Spectra Energy report contains several references to actions designed to minimize the amount of liquid in the station piping, and ‘to remove oil from the piping.’  This suggests that liquids were to blame.

“The company said it is evaluating installation of an additional filter separator to aid in removal of liquids from the gas stream.

“In addition, here is an excerpt from, followed by a link to, a Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection form which mentions ‘slugs of liquids’ and the need for automatic liquid removal, compressor shutdown, or high liquid level alarm to combat the slugs.”

The excerpt reads:

Do liquid separators have a manual drain and if slugs of liquid could be carried into the compressor, automatic liquid removal, compressor shutdown, or high liquid level alarm?

Are liquid separators manufactured in accordance with Section VIII of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code or a design factor less than or equal to 0.4 if constructed of pipe and fittings with no internal welding?

Link to DOT inspection form:

http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Files/PHMSA_Form_5_2009.pdf

[See page 4 of the DOT inspection form, under the subhead ‘Design Requirements,' Section .165(b)]:

1 Million Cubic feet of Natural Gas, But Only 20 Gallons of Liquid?

The Notice of Violation was issued to Spectra Energy on September 16 following the company’s poor safety and environmental response surrounding the August 23 emergency shutdown of its nearly 5,000 horsepower compressor station.

In its October 2 response to DEP, the company reported that 967,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas was released into the atmosphere, along with what it estimates was about 20 gallons of oil which showered onto surrounding properties.

Our source, who is familiar with gas operations, raises questions with the estimate that only 20 gallons was released into the atmosphere.  He believes it could have been much higher, perhaps as much as 100 gallons of liquid and oil.

He notes:  “The company’s estimate is based on a review of oil usage, but that is insufficient to conclude that only 20 gallons was released and compressor/motor oil was the only component.  It is likely that all the liquids and natural gas in the piping system were vented to the atmosphere.

Currently the DEP is in the important penalty assessment phase, as it evaluates the company’s response regarding its “unlawful conduct.”

Risky Premise

Some reports are circulating that, because the emergency shutdown did not result in catastrophic failure, it is safe to return to business as usual with, perhaps, a modest fine and a slap on the wrist to Spectra Energy.

It is nice to be lucky, but that should not determine DEP’s penalty assessment.  Spectra Energy demonstrated the equivalent of what strikes many area residents as reckless indifference – and/or reckless incompetence.  (For details, read “Emergency Shutdown” at this link): http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=372

This is the company that promises:  “Safety of the residents and the environment is our primary priority.”  Instead, their performance in the midst of an “emergency shutdown” due to a gas leak in a huge compressor station sitting on top of a 12 billion cubic feet underground gas storage field is a dramatic failure.

Please – No Rerun of 2004 Moss Bluff Incident

In addition, this company did experience a catastrophic failure in 2004 at its Moss Bluff gas storage field outside of Houston.  This involved two explosions, six days of fire with flames as high as 1,000 feet and two evacuations.

Spectra Energy has declined to share what it learned from that experience in order to demonstrate that it provides improved performance at its Steckman Ridge field.  (For details, read “Moss Bluff Incident” at this link): http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=390

Its “new reporting procedure” with its commitment to follow the law next time suggests that Spectra Energy still does not get it.

What if we’re not lucky next time?  It is always in the public interest to take a tough stand on behalf of safety and the environment.

The Steckman Ridge station is approximately three miles from an elementary school.

And there is a bonus here for Spectra Energy.  It could demonstrate tangible commitment to the safety of residents and the environment.  This could mark a new phase in its community relations that go far beyond handing out gift certificates.

Following are recommendations for DEP to consider in its evaluation.

5 Penalty Recommendations

1)    Consideration of a fine should start at $100,000 and only move up.

2)    One-year probation of the facility with unannounced inspections and visits.

3)    DEP to staff one of its engineers at the site – with all compensation and other expenses to be paid by Spectra Energy for this person.  The DEP staffer would remain on site for one year, then the DEP could decide whether to extend its presence there, based on Spectra Energy performance and quality improvement.

4) A full-time site manager to be assigned to Steckman Ridge.  This person must be an employee of Spectra Energy (FTE, versus a contract person).  This person must be on site at the Steckman Ridge facility and be the responsible leader at that site.

5) Keep the Steckman Ridge compressor station fully staffed until the liquid  problem is resolved and additional equipment is installed and proven effective.

We want Spectra Energy to be a responsible member of our community – to be the best it can be in that regard.  Keep the gift certificates.  Make sure that our environment is safe and clean; and that our families and properties are safe.

LINKS & REFERENCES

Spectra Energy Response to DEP’s Notice of Violation: steckman-ridge-response-ltr

DEP’s Notice of Violation to Spectra Energy: dep-violation-notice-p1 dep-violation-notice-p2

Pennsylvania Code Citations

25 PA Code Citations:

http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/025/articleICIII_toc.html

91.33. Incidents causing or threatening pollution:

http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/025/chapter91/s91.33.html

Air Pollution Control Act:

http://www.dep.state.pa.us/DEP/DEPUTATE/airwaste/aq/regs/apca.pdf

Clean Streams Law:

http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/minres/oilgas/CSLawuc.htm

Oct 7
Legislative Alert
icon1 admin | icon2 In The News | icon4 10 7th, 2009| icon3No Comments »

Property Owners Contact PA Legislators:

New Budget Proposal Threatens More State Lands for Gas Drillers;

Raids Oil & Gas Lease Fund, Stripping DCNR of Funding;

Instead, Pass Severance Tax on Extraction of Gas

“Our voices will not be muffled by the loud ring of the moneyed natural gas companies,” is the battle cry of Eileen Juico, member of the Chester County Pipeline Task Force. Chester County, Pennsylvania, is the site of extensive natural gas pipeline activity.

Revolving Door Between Government & Energy Industry

Her battle cry is to the point as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (October 7) that the deputy chief of staff for Governor Rendell is stepping down to join Range Resources Corporation as VP of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Texas-based company that has “a major drilling stake in Pennsylvania,” according to the Inquirer.

In the meantime, Ms. Juico and Task Force members are mobilizing property owners to contact key members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate to urge them to oppose a budget amendment that would permit leasing additional state forest lands for gas drilling.

At the same time, this proposal would raid Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Lease fund, effectively stripping the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) of funding to manage and upgrade Pennsylvania’s parks and forests.

Currently, more than 600,000 acres of state forest land are already available for leasing, according to Ms. Juico. This particular budget proposal would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to lease an additional 200,000 acres for natural gas drilling. It is seen as one way to boost state revenue in order to help reduce Pennsylvania’s huge budget deficits.

Task Force Recommendations

Ms. Juico, however, notes both fiscal and environmental concerns. “The amount of revenue raised from additional leasing will not generate significant funding for the budget, but it runs the risk of exposing the Commonwealth and its citizens to substantial environmental costs,” she added.

In her view, such leasing is in direct conflict with the mission of DCNR “to conserve and sustain Pennsylvania’s natural resources.”

Even more troubling, this budget proposal would eliminate the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, stripping DCNR of funding to manage and sustain Pennsylvania’s parks and forests. Instead, lease revenues would go directly and permanently to the General Fund (where it could more easily be spent on all manner of government pork projects).

Legislators who oppose this proposal recall Pennsylvania’s history with coal.

For example, House Game and Fisheries Committee Chairman Ed Staback, D-Lackawanna/Wayne, said in a press release last month (emphasis added):

“Living in the Northeast, every day I see the remnants of the rush to get natural resources out of the ground. Without ironclad guarantees for reclaiming efforts and expenses coming from the gas companies, our state forests could be left with dangerous holes dotting the land, retaining ponds full of polluted water, and abandoned sheds, buildings and well structures.”

Ms. Juico advocates an alternative budget proposal she believes is more fiscally and environmentally responsible.

“We support a severance tax on natural gas drilling. In other words, tax the extraction of natural gas.”

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 997 would institute a severance tax on natural gas drilling and earmark a portion of those revenues for local governments directly impacted by the Marcellus Shale gas drilling and the construction of natural gas pipelines,” she said.

Instead of leasing more state forest lands to gas drilling operations and stripping the DCNR of funding to do its job, she points out that a severance tax is a better alternative.

“A severance tax on the extraction of natural gas is a customary start-up cost for natural gas companies throughout this nation,” she said. “It will not deter these companies from seeking the lucrative profits that the Marcellus Shale offers.”

What Property Owners Know

In Pennsylvania, among other states, energy companies are becoming more active due to the potential of profitable recovery of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

Growing emphasis on natural gas means more underground storage fields, more pipelines and more eminent domain actions that involve the seizure of private property rights. Meanwhile, incidents of water pollution are surfacing across the state in connection with increased drilling and storage of gas in underground formations (through the use of injection wells).

Property owners who have experienced any of these issues know three things:

Gas migrates underground which can create unexpected problems.

Toxic chemicals are used in drilling or injection (storage) operations.

The revolving door between government and the energy industry (e.g., Governor Rendell’s deputy chief of staff joining Range Resources) underscores the fact that citizens and landowners must act as an industry/government watch group to ensure that the public interest is represented and protected.

Call to Action

To that purpose, Ms. Juico urges landowners to contact key legislators immediately and urge them to:

Oppose forcing the DCNR to lease additional state forest land for gas drilling (and raiding the Oil & Gas Lease Fund).

Instead, support a severance or extraction tax on the recovery of natural gas that would include revenues for local governments impacted by natural gas drilling and the construction of pipelines.

In addition to your own local state legislators, here are three critical contacts to make:

Senator Dominic Pileggi, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader

Harrisburg Office: 717-787-4712

Toll free: 888-984-3478.

E-mail: dpileggi@pasen.gov

Senator Jake Corman, Chair of Appropriations Committee

Harrisburg Office: 717-787-1377

Senator Joe Scarnati, Lieutenant Governor & President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate

Harrisburg Office: 717-787-7084