A gas leak at the Ineos petrochemical plant in Grangemouth on Tuesday sparked a major emergency incident. A ‘Lack of information’ caused public panic as residents were instructed to stay indoors and nearby schools went into lock-down, panic spread throughout the town and the surrounding areas. Read more…
Communities in the U.S already face this threat on a daily basis as pipelines carrying odourless gas run within meters of schools and houses. Ineos fracking plans in the East Midlands and Cheshire would inevitably require a massive expansion in UK pipeline construction blighting communities far away from the gas fields.
This Guest Blog is from the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety exposes the scale of Ineos complicity as it’s imports of fracked gasses drive an expansion in U.S pipeline construction:
There are many pipelines projects in the United States, with about 8 currently in progress in Pennsylvania alone; however, the Mariner East lines are unlike anything else in our area. Sunoco Logistics is in the process of installing two 350-mile Highly Volatile Liquids pipelines that cross the state of Pennsylvania. The pipelines, referred to as Mariner East 2 and 2X, are what Sunoco claims to be an “expansion” of an already existing line that is now referred to as Mariner East 1. These pipelines will carry butane, ethane and propane in an artificially liquified state, achieved through subjecting the gases to an incredibly high pressure (1500psi).
Sunoco Logistics has been tight-lipped in divulging the names of the companies it has contracted with to export these gases but we do know one for sure – Ineos. Much of the ethane already being sent from Pennsylvania to Scotland is coming from the Mariner East 1 and much more will be coming to Scotland if ME2/2X are installed and become operational. Therefore, we are looking to you for solidarity in our fight against Sunoco Logistics and INEOS, as we know that you are fighting your own battle, particularly against INEOS, as you pursue a fracking ban in Scotland. We stand with you in your fight. People need to recognize these risks and if Scotland permits fracking, you will all be facing these similar dangers soon enough. Let our story be a warning to the people of Scotland.
The History of the Mariner Pipeline
The existing Mariner East line was constructed in 1930. For that project, previous owners Sun Pipe Line Company & Atlantic Pipeline Corporation were awarded a “Certificate of Public Convenience” because the purpose of the original 8-inch line was to carry gasoline from Marcus Hook, Delaware Co. PA, to the western part of the state near Pittsburgh. At that time, it was arguably for the local public’s benefit. Ownership of that line was ultimately taken over by Sunoco Logistics and was later taken out of service. In 2014, Sunoco Logistics managed to, with very little fanfare, “repurpose” that existing line, changing both the direction of the flow and the contents from gasoline to ethane and butane, putting it back into service. This practice is against advisories issued by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) because it compromises the structural integrity of the pipeline. Yet Sunoco Logistics did it anyway.
Sunoco Logistics has abused the original Certificate of Public Convenience by changing the entire purpose of the ME1 pipeline. It was well known and well documented that their original intention was to export these new products, entirely different contents, overseas. It was not until a public outcry to these plans that the company changed their story, then indicating that 7% of the product would remain in the United States. Eminent domain is supposed to be utilized only for projects that serve to benefit the local communities in which a utility is operating. These projects are clearly not for that purpose and exportation actually has a detrimental impact on domestic prices.
Since repurposing ME1, Sunoco Logistics has further capitalized on this nearly 90-year old Certificate of Public Convenience and began planning two additional transmission pipelines to be installed along the ME1 route, sharing much, but not all, of the existing right of way. ME2 and ME2X are 20” and 16” diameter lines respectively. Despite exportation, Sunoco Logistics has taken to condemning private property of citizens in Pennsylvania to obtain additional easements. Rather than condemning entire properties enabling people to just move away, they are taking only segments of people’s land and leaving them with the risk of the pipelines next to their homes and diminished property values. Being near to the pipelines also jeopardizes people’s ability to sell and insure their properties.
The New Pipelines & The Threat To Communities
Even though Sunoco Logistics’ public utility status is embroiled in an ongoing challenge in Pennsylvania courts, they have been allowed to start construction after receiving permitting approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The PA DEP permits, however, were granted despite numerous deficiencies. At present, the PA DEP is currently refusing to answer lawmakers’ questions about why the permits were granted and, under the condition of anonymity, DEP officials have stated they were under political pressure to grant the permits, being threatened with their jobs. It is important to note that these legal challenges are not being funded or supported by any governmental entities. They are being funded by citizens and environmental non-profit organizations who, as you can guess, have a finite number of resources, particularly as compared to multi-billion dollar corporations.
There are many factors that make Mariner East dangerous. Perhaps the most startling among them is its route – through heavily populated “high consequence areas”, particularly through Chester & Delaware Counties. Delaware County alone has a population density of 3,000 people per square mile. Between just those two counties, there are more than 30,000 people along the right of way. Much of the route is also adjacent to major highways and thoroughfares throughout the state.
Red Pipeline Route Through Communities
Another factor that makes the Mariner East projects unique to our area are the contents. Butane, propane and ethane are explosive, odorless, colorless and denser than air. The reason that there is no odorant added (unlike methane used for home heating and cooking) is because the whole intent of the project is to export the products for productions of plastics to Europe. Despite the obvious safety feature of an added odorant, an odor would make the product undesirable to an importer. Without a scent, detecting a leak in our communities would be extremely difficult. While the pipeline operators do have safety mechanisms in place to detect a drop in pressure, they will not be able to detect a variance unless it is over 1%.
Additionally, unlike methane, the density properties of ethane, butane, and propane mean that the gases would be heavier than air, resulting in the accumulation of a low-hanging vapor cloud. Vapor clouds mean an even greater potential impact since winds would result in gas migration. A vapor cloud would continue to spread until it either found an ignition source or mixed with the air long enough that it was no longer combustible. Couple these factors with a high-density area and the likelihood of a vapor cloud finding an ignition source increases exponentially. Potential ignition sources include using a cell phone, starting a car, ringing a door bell, or turning on a stove. Anything that can create a spark is enough to ignite a vapor cloud comprised of these gases. The gas density would also cause the materials to seep into the ground, polluting the ground and bodies of water, and pooling into low lying areas of structures, such as the basements of homes and other buildings.
Putting dangerous pipelines of this magnitude through such a high consequence area is irresponsible and unprecedented. One of the most similar pipeline explosions to what we could experience with the Mariner East pipelines is the January 2015 ATEX Ethane Pipeline explosion in Follansbee, West Virginia. The ATEX line was a single 20” line carrying only ethane. That pipeline was only operational for 13 months before exploding. Fortunately, in that case, the pipeline was situated in a sparsely populated area. The actual impact of the ATEX explosion was measured at a 2,000-foot radius. Calculations estimate that the potential impact radius of only ME2 (20” line) would be approximately 1,100 feet; however, that estimate is conservative. Other NGL/HVL explosions have consistently exceeded their “PIR”. Now consider the impact of one 20-inch line next to a 16-inch line and an 8-inch line. The potential impact would be substantially increased.
Most of the HVL (Highly Volatile Liquids) lines that exist in the United States are routed through areas with very low populations. Yet, due to misclassifications of the contents of the Mariner East pipelines, not a single federal or state authority had any oversight in the siting of the route, resulting in a recipe for disaster for Pennsylvania residents. Not only is it irresponsibly routed, Sunoco Logistics has the worst-in-industry safety record of all other pipeline operators, with a leak rate 10 times greater than any other. On April 1 2017, the original Mariner East 1 line leaked for the third time, on this occasion it was a sub-surface, mid-line leak, not detected by Sunoco but by a resident.
Due to a further lack of oversight on this project, Sunoco Logistics was not required to perform a single quantitative risk analysis as part of the planning process. To date, the only QRA being done is being commissioned by Middletown Township, Delaware Co., and only after significant public pressure, particularly on the part of residents who established the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety.
Those of us involved in Middletown Coalition for Community Safety have been working tirelessly to stop the pipeline. Our last hope is mounting legal challenges meant to force our towns to enforce our own zoning ordinances, particularly those regarding setback requirements. In some instances, the existing Mariner East right of way is placing the pipeline less than 50 feet from occupied structures. Even without an ignition source, close proximately to a leak presents risks of asphyxiation and cryogenic burns. When considering a leak with ignition, the potential impact radius of (at least) 1,000 feet, we have countless schools, senior living centers, multi-unit apartment complexes, single family homes and businesses directly in the blast zone. An initial risk study commissioned by MCCS has showed that a vapor cloud could potentially migrate 1800 feet in only 3 minutes. If there were to be a delayed-ignition leak, an explosion could occur from the initial spark and travel all the way back to the leak source, at which point a fire would continue to burn until all the contents of that pipeline segment are discharged.
Mechanisms to notify residents of an emergency are virtually non-existent, since phone calls or text alerts could be enough to ignite a vapor cloud. To date, the only “evacuation plan” we have been provided is to run, on foot, upwind away from the leak source. All the people who live, work and commute through the area within a half-mile of the pipelines’ right of way would need to be capable of self-evacuating, since first responders would not be permitted to enter a safety perimeter. There is no consideration for our vulnerable populations – young children, the elderly, those with disabilities or medical conditions. Essentially, we will be left to fend for ourselves against an immeasurable danger. Even the best prepared fire department would not be enough to save us, as a catastrophic event could occur within mere moments. MCCS commissioned an independent leak hazards study, the focus of which is Glenwood Elementary School in Middletown Township.
We cannot go quietly into the night, allowing a private, for-profit industry to directly jeopardize the lives of our children, friends and loved ones. For it’s part, Middletown Coalition for Community Safety is working hard to fundraise to support our legal challenges and organizing for measures of non-violent resistance.
We will continue to fight and, despite what our opponents might like to think, “It is NOT a done deal!”