Public safety issues are one of several concerns about the Trans Pecos pipeline. An area through which the pipeline will run, Sunny Glen, inhabits a small community with one road in and road out, and with only a volunteer fire department. As we’ve learned, this is a 42” pipeline that is of significant scale in comparison to the most lines for public use that run between 6” to 12”.
Through a Texas Public Information Act and open records request, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance obtained records from the Brewster County Emergency Management to then have a conversation with Dewitt County EMC Rosie Ybarra and Cuero fire Chief Billy Tolbert referencing the ETP pipeline explosion near Cuero. The BBCA learned of a 42 inch pipeline with a MAOP (maximum allowable operating pressure ) of 1500 psi (pounds per square inch). The line was buried roughly 15 feet under a road. A weld failure appeared to have occurred when the pipeline made a slight turn and started decreasing its depth. The estimated crater size was of 6-8 feet wide by 10 feet long. The estimated flame height was 100 feet with the radiant heat igniting grass around 1,200 feet away. ETP advised that they had to burn off 14 miles of gas. It took approximately an hour to start loosing intensity.
EMC Ybarra and Chief Tolbert stated that ETP was in constant communication from the start of the incident with a good conversation offering to help and provide information anytime. The concerns stem from imagining this scenario as a resident of Sunny glen, located in north east Alpine, or anyone within a quarter mile of the proposed Trans Pecos pipeline, as it passes through the Alpine area.
The same company that installed the 42-inch REM system is responsible for installing the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline. A window into the company’s construction behavior can be viewed just west of Alpine, off of U.S. 90, onto FM 1703. There, you can see a nominal 23-acre site, which has been a blemish, and constant source of problems, including dust, erosion, storm water run-off, violations of State law, county regulations, and other malfeasance since April 2015.
Its these particular employees that have been given the task to installing the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline, with an MAOP of 1440 PSIG, transporting at least 1.35Bn standard cubic feet of natural gas through Alpine each and every day. If an incident were to occur, within approximately 1,300 feet of an explosion, we have to consider the fact that where residents reside first responders are all volunteer in response to very serious and deadly consequence. An additional reference is the August 19, 2000 rupture, explosion, and fire of an El Paso Natural Gas 30- inch transmission pipeline near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in which twelve people were killed.
ABC news coverage of the incident can be seen here.
Two families were camped 675-feet (225-yards, the length of 2-1/4 football fields) from a buried El Paso Natural Gas transmission pipeline. At the time of the rupture, explosion, and fire, the pipeline was operating at a pressure of 675 PSIG, with a Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (“MAOP”) of 875 PSIG – the pipeline was operating at 77.14% of its maximum allowable pressure at the time of the rupture.
The NTSB reported the damage assessed from the rupture, explosion and fire:
The force of the rupture and the violent ignition of the escaping gas created a 51- foot-wide crater about 113 feet along the pipe. A 49-foot section of the pipe was ejected from the crater in three pieces measuring approximately 3 feet, 20 feet, and 26 feet in length. The largest piece was found about 287 feet northwest of the crater in the direction of the suspension bridges.
What they did not report was the scene the first responders came upon, including six horribly burned people in the river, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, and smoke inhalation, and an environment scorched by the 1100-degree fire, which melted the sand, turned concrete bridge foundations to powder, and incinerated the camp-site.
Seismic monitors at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology recorded three disturbances; the first the likely rupture of the pipeline, the second the initial explosion at the time of ignition, and the third with secondary explosions from the three vehicles at the campsite.
The design of the pipeline itself, installed in 1950, played a role. The details, and compounding failures in inspection, regulation, and monitoring all tied together that tragic morning, resulting in the deaths of twelve people.
The NTSB concluded, some three years later in the accident report, the following:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the August 19, 2000, natural gas pipeline rupture and subsequent fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico, was a significant reduction in pipe wall thickness due to severe internal corrosion. The severe corrosion had occurred because El Paso Natural Gas Company’s corrosion control program failed to prevent, detect, or control internal corrosion within the company’s pipeline. Contributing to the accident were ineffective Federal pre-accident inspections of El Paso Natural Gas Company that did not identify deficiencies in the company’s internal corrosion control program.
In essence, the pipeline company was at fault due to operating and maintenance failures, and the Federal government also had responsibility, for ineffective inspection programs and regulations.
Ultimately, El Paso Natural Gas paid a $15.5 million fine, spent purportedly $86 million on the pipeline system associated with the incident, another $222 million on overall safety improvements, including corrosion control, and settled with the two families for an undisclosed amount, save for a $10M donation to a Carlsbad-area foundation.
Natural Gas Transmission – Significant Incidents (onshore) 1995-2015
The “fine-print”, hard to read, shows that there have been 972 incidents, with 40 associated fatalities, and 174 injuries requiring in-patient hospitalization, through 2014. The trend has remained generally stable, which suggests that the industry, and its regulators, including State and the Federal government, are doing little, if anything to improve the operating safety of natural gas pipelines.
If we examine the statistical data for all pipeline systems, the same generally stable trend appears – 5,599 significant incidents, 360 fatalities, 1,365 injuries requiring in-patient hospitalization, through 2014.
Current year, 2015 statistics are tracking similarly, showing no significant downward trend, either for natural gas transmission systems, or for the pipeline industry as a whole:
In looking at the Pecos River incident, all in, El Paso Natural Gas spent less than $400 million as a consequence of the rupture, explosion, and fire that killed twelve people – about $33 million per victim. Of course, most of that expense was spread elsewhere, purportedly ($308 million) in rebuilding the damaged pipeline, and safety improvements in the El Paso Natural Gas system as a whole.
In looking at the industry, the numbers simply don’t add up. The $1.3Bn in losses are a drop in the bucket to the energy industry – in oil & gas, this figure is rounding error, and we are led to believe by the industry that the 40 lost lives over the last twenty years are of no consequence.
Industry continues to build larger diameter pipelines, with higher operating pressures. The industry continues to route pipelines through all manner of environments, urban, suburban, rural communities, without regard to life, property, or environmental damage.
Industry, aided by government continues to exploit every resource available to produce fossil fuels, including shale oil and shale gas. This process consumes vast quantities of water, contaminates the remaining water resources, leaks vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Now industry, aided by government has even managed to strip communities of home- rule authority, literally allowing drilling and production activity in a person’s backyard.
All this happens with no investment in improving the safety track record of these pipelines.