May 4 2011

“Bitten by the Snake”

Spectra Energy VP Worries about Getting

“Bitten by the Snake” at

National Pipeline Safety Forum

Meanwhile, It Wants to Expand Gas Transmission Line

Through New Jersey to NYC; but

Won’t Talk About What It’s Doing with Aging Pipeline

Next to Elementary School (Shut Down) in Baytown, TX


Goose Creek School District in Baytown, TX, shut down an elementary school and a second building after a risk-analysis study raised concerns because the buildings are "situated between two aging gas pipeline corridors." A For Sale sign went up in February. (Click to enlarge image.)


View of part of pipeline corridor near Phumphrey Elementary School with exposed bypass valve in background. (Click to enlarge image.)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a National Pipeline Safety Forum and Action Plan.  This is a 6-month initiative that kicked off with a big meeting in Washington, DC, on April 18.

It did not take long for a Spectra Energy executive to throw cold water on the notion that natural gas pipeline and transmission companies would actually have to do something.

This may have been in response to the Department of Transportation (DOT) press release that set the stage for pipeline operators like Spectra Energy and its Texas Eastern pipeline division.

The Pipeline Safety Action Plan is aimed at the following:

  • “… repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents.”
  • Ensure “pipeline operators know the age and condition of their pipelines;”
  • Make “information about pipelines and the safety record of pipeline operators easily accessible to the public.”

Link to DOT press release:

In the midst of this safety initiative, who should raise his hand to demur but Andrew Drake, a Spectra Energy VP in Houston.  Apparently, he is VP of engineering and construction.  Mr. Drake is quoted in The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), as follows:

Andrew Drake, vice president of Spectra Energy in Houston, said just because a pipeline is old does not necessarily mean it needs to be replaced.

“Don’t jump to conclusions [like]… just get rid of old pipelines and put in new ones and all of our problems will be gone,” he said. “The age itself should not be the focus … that is how we’ll get bitten by the snake.  The focus should be pipeline fitness.”

Link to The Morning Call article (April 18):,0,697694,print.story

“Bitten by the snake?”  Tell that to the school board and parents at the Goose Creek School District in Baytown, TX (about 25 miles from Spectra Energy’s  Houston headquarters).

The school board shut down an elementary school and a second building complex after a risk-analysis study raised concerns because the buildings are “situated between two aging pipeline corridors.”1

The Goose Creek school district summarized the board’s decision as follows:

“The risk-analysis study commissioned by the district concluded that should an incident – such as a leak or rupture – occur to a pipeline near the school or complex, there is a potential that students and/or staff could be injured or worse.”

Among other points, the independent study noted that, “Pumphrey Elementary lies well within the blast threshold radius of the Texas Eastern natural gas line.” Texas Eastern is the pipeline division of Spectra Energy.

The report notes that pipelines more than four decades old are “approaching the typical design lifetime.”  Spectra Energy’s 55-year-old, 30-inch pipeline is the only one identified by name in the school district’s risk-analysis study.

The Goose Creek school district’s risk-analysis report suggests the same pipeline maintenance concerns echoed in DOT’s call to action.  It addressed corrosion, third parties driving over the pipeline right-of-way, and it suggests a lack of cooperation from pipeline owners.

The analysis states:  “Corrosion studies for these lines are not available.  It would be a straight-forward matter for the respective pipeline owners to quantify corrosion effects.”

The school board’s unusual action was taken in 2009.  In February of this year, a “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the two buildings.

I contacted the company in February to ask what additional maintenance action the company might take with its aging gas pipeline; whether it believed nearby homeowners were at risk; and whether Spectra Energy cooperated with the risk-analysis study.

The company declined to answer saying, “it would no longer be appropriate to respond to your correspondence.”

This is the same Spectra Energy embroiled in a pipeline fight to expand its gas transmission pipeline through New Jersey into New York City.  The issue of safety is front and center.

As the public record shows, this is a company with a history of explosions, multi-million dollar fines, regulatory violations and more.2

Ironically, the DOT in a report issued in 1999 describes the catastrophic failure of Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern gas transmission pipeline in Edison, New Jersey:

“Radiant heat from the fireball [500 feet high] ignited the roofs of buildings located more than 100 yards from the failure, destroyed 128 apartments and resulted in the evacuation of 1,500 people. ….

“The gas transmission company [Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern] took 2.5 hours to isolate the ruptured section of pipeline by operating manually operated valves, which contributed to the severity of the damages.”

Past and future are coming full circle on pipeline safety issues.  “Bitten by the snake?”  These folks have forgotten how to blush.

Links & Resources

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Pipeline Safety Action Plan – US DOT press release, April 4, 2011

Pipeline safety summit:  The work beginsThe Morning Call (Allentown, PA), by Colby Itkowitz, April 18, 2011,0,697694,print.story

1 Pipeline Fears Shut School – For details on the shutdown of an elementary school and second building about 25 miles from Spectra Energy headquarters, refer to this blog post, which includes multiple supporting documents such as the school district’s risk-analysis study:

2 Spectra Energy’s Track Record – See the following two blog posts and note the references backed by public sources.

Spectra Energy – Again (Dec. 22, 2010):

Spectra Butter Job (Sept. 1, 2010):

Spectra Energy’s Pipeline Battle in New Jersey Refer to NO GAS PIPELINE website at this link:

NOTE: This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link:

Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.



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