Last night the Weymouth Town Council had before it Spectra Energy due to a gas leak which occurred on January 6, 2017 at the Metering and Regulating Station located in North Weymouth. The video of this meeting can be viewed online at WETC under Town Council with the date of February 6, 2017.
There were many questions the councilors had asked that either went unanswered or were answered with erroneous responses.
First, Congressman Lynch, State Representative Murphy and State Senator John Keenan expressed concerns and posed questions. It was mostly due to the specific leak and measures Spectra would take to ensure this wouldn't happen again. The following should be noted:
- Spectra stated there was no equipment failure and it was due to moisture buildup which froze.
- Spectra stated they replaced the valves and installed security cameras in response to the leak. But if the equipment wasn't at fault and it was due to moisture, is replacing the valves just giving us false hope this won't happen again? It wasn't specifically stated how security cameras are going to help detect a gas leak, since gas is invisible.
Councilors started off by asking how many cubic feet of gas was released on the evening of January 6th. The response we got was 214,000 standard cubic feet.
Now reading through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) website and Spectra's website, you can find certain regulations which govern pipeline "incidents". You can click SPECTRA'S ASSET SAFETY RECORD page and see how they outline how few incidents they have on their pipelines. If you click on "More information: Incident Definition & Categories", you will see they outline what PHMSA says is reportable incidents. Which I cut and pasted below here (it's Federal Code 49 CFR 191.3).
Pipeline incidents are defined by federal law as the following events:
(1) An event that involves a release of gas from a pipeline, or of liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, refrigerant gas, or gas from an LNG facility, and that results in one or more of the following consequences:
(i) A death, or personal injury necessitating in-patient hospitalization;
(ii) Estimated property damage of $50,000 or more, including loss to the operator and others, or both, but excluding cost of gas lost;
(iii) Unintentional estimated gas loss of three million cubic feet or more;
(2) An event that results in an emergency shutdown of an LNG facility. Activation of an emergency shutdown system for reasons other than an actual emergency does not constitute an incident.
(3) An event that is significant, in the judgment of the operator, even though it did not meet the criteria of paragraphs (1) or (2) of this definition.
Now Spectra states the leak was 214,000 cubic feet. PHMSA regulations state that an incident is that which is 3 million cubic feet or more leaked unintentially - OR - (3) An event that is significant, in the judgment of the operator, even though it did not meet the criteria of paragraphs (1) or (2) of this definition.
Spectra DID NOT submit any report to PHMSA or the National Response Center (NRC). Spectra released gas for over two hours and for those of us in close proximity, we could smell a strong odor of natural gas in the atmosphere of our highly residentially dense neighborhood for over 2 hours. Spectra did not feel this was "significant" enough to file a report with PHMSA. In fact, under current regulations of the natural gas industry, Spectra would have had to release 14 TIMES as much gas as they did that night in order to qualify for the current required minimum under paragraph 1 of the current federal regulation. I could not imagine what it would be like if 14 times more gas was released on that evening as the smell and uncertainty were both very concerning to our neighborhood as is.
Spectra representatives stated that faulty gas valves are not a normal occurance. However, there were gas leaks reported on Spectra lines in Medway MA on January 5, 2016, Sandwich MA on December 11, 2016 and in South Brunswick NJ on December 18, 2016. You will not find reports of these incidents however, because they did not meet the minimum required threshold of PHMSA regs and Spectra did not feel gas leaks from faulty valves are worth reporting. This is why if you look Algonquin or Maritimes up on the PHMSA website, there is only 1 reported incident in the past 10 years. It's not because they are safe and incidents don't occur - but because the regulations on the gas industry are so loose that they do not have to report them and they are not an honest enough company to do it on their own accord under Paragraph 3 of Pipeline Safety Regulations, Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations. But you can find many of these occurrences through Google Searches due to local media outlets covering them.
In fact, on December 31, 2013 - just three years prior to the gas leak in Weymouth, Spectra had a valve freeze at their compressor station in Searsmont, ME. 70 million standard cubic feet of natural gas was leaked - well over the 3 million minimum reporting requirement. This incident is NOT registered under PHMSA because Spectra didn't report it. They were imposed a Notice of Probably Violation and Proposed Civil Penalty on October 27, 2014 and were ordered to pay $34,500 in fines (You can read it HERE if you want). Even still - an incident report was never filed and not searchable on PHMSA's database of pipeline incidents. All of these incidents are only known due to local media sources which may or may not cover them.
Click Here for all of Spectra's reported Algonquin incidents
Click Here for all of Spectra's Maritimes reported incidents (again - note that 70 million cubic feet of gas released on 12/31/13 is not there)
On September 21, 2015, Spectra stated at a Weymouth Town Council meeting that they have a skater system to detect losses of pressure. Verbetim from Spectra's representative on the night of the 21st it was told to us, "There is also a skater system that operates, that if there is in fact a loss of pressure on the line at any point we'd know almost instantaneously." It was further stated by Spectra that night, "An alarm would go off if there was a pressure drop. It would go back to that sensor in a matter of about 10 seconds. At our valve sites, sensors are located there and data is sent back to our dispatchers to monitor any discrepancies." The response as to why Spectra was not notified of the leak by their detection system was that the leak did not cause the pressure to drop to a point that would trigger the sensors. The representatives were pressured more by councilors - as it seemed ludicrous that a 2 hour leak would not affect pressure in the main line whatsoever. It was also then revealed that the 2 1" gas valves do not contain sensors - only the bigger 20" pipe does.
Spectra went on to say that they do check the moisture in the Metering Station but didn't go into details on how it is done. Just that it is done. PHMSA released a bulletin on February 11, 2016 titled "Dangers of Abnormal Snow and Ice Build-Up on Gas Distribution Systems." In this memo, it clearly states, "Monitor the accumulation of moisture in equipment and snow or ice blocking regulator or relief valve vents which could prevent regulators and relief valves from functioning properly." Spectra pretty much said there was no way they could actually do this. So again, I'm not sure why new valves are going to improve the safety at the Metering Station if they stated they couldn't properly monitor or fix moisture buildup - and as they stated, these 1" relief valves do not have their own sensors on them. When questioned why Spectra wouldn't choose to put sensors on these valves, the representatives just pretty much shrugged their shoulders and said they don't have to.
Spectra likes to pat themselves on the back because they devised an emergency response plan after this incident. However, federal code requires them to have one already established with the communities which host their infrastructure.
Under 49 CFR §§ 192.605, 192.615, 193.2509, and 195.402, pipeline facility operators must include provisions for coordinating with appropriate fire, law enforcement, emergency management, and other public safety officials in their emergency plans. Immediate contact by pipeline facility operators with local emergency responders located in potentially affected areas provides for appropriate, more coordinated and effective response to emergency situations involving pipelines, and can minimize potential injury, death and environmental damage. NOTICE CAN BE VIEWED HERE.
The bottom line is Spectra leaked gas in our neighborhood for over 2 hours. There is no punishment. There is no fine. There is no formal record of it. Because the current regulations allow them to get away with it and turn a blind eye to incidents.
This incident did not have any injuries, fatalities or personal property damage. It did send our first responders on a wild goose chase for a little bit trying to track down the source of natural gas. It should also be noted that there was a small, contained fire in a residence during this time - which our first responders had to respond to - so thank goodness the natural gas leak wasn't more than just a leak. If a leak occurred in the summer, our 911 dispatchers would be inundated with calls from people assuming they have gas leaking in their homes. The gas was just released into the environment with no care or concern - and again, no fines for the disruption they caused our community.
There has been no outreach to neighbors about the incident and no public education (again, a violation of Federal Code) or awareness about the incident or what to do if this happens again.
I have no faith in Spectra - and I didn't even mention the compressor station proposal once. Many thanks to all the residents who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the meeting and those who watched from home. Also thanks to Quincy City Councilors Croall and LaForest who came to our meeting as well.
More information can be found here:
What you can do:
- Call Governor Baker's Office and tell them this leak was unacceptable and Weymouth is not an appropriate place to continue the expansion of Spectra's operation - mostly the siting of a compressor station next to this leaking Metering and Regulating station. Massachusetts is better than this.
- Contact the Attorney General's office with your concerns over the proposed expansion of natural gas infrastructure in our neighborhood. Explain how federal regulations are not protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth - an over 2 hour gas leak cannot happen in Eastern Massachusetts with our population density and still be considered a non-reportable incident.
- Contact federal delegation and ask them to sponsor bills to change the current federal regulations regarding Natural Gas Pipeline leaks.
- Share information with friends, family and neighbors.