Justifiable Jitters or Unwarranted Worry?

Leslie Hartz, the Dominion executive in charge of pipeline construction shows the width of steel to be used in smaller-diameter sections of pipe.
Leslie Hartz, the Dominion executive in charge of pipeline construction, shows the width of steel to be used in smaller-diameter sections of pipe.

Virginians living in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline fret about the threat of explosions. Dominion Transmission says their fears are overblown.

by James A. Bacon

Irene Leech, a consumer studies professor at Virginia Tech, grew up on a farm in Buckingham County where her family has raised beef for more than a hundred years. The family has preserved many of the original structures, including the old ice house, granary and smokehouse. Her husband, she says, devotes half his time to help keep the farm going. “Our plan is to retire to the farmhouse. Our goal is to pass on a sustainable business to the next generation.”

But Dominion Transmission, managing partner of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, has thrown her for a loop. The company wants to route a high-pressure transmission pipeline through the farm. While Leech acknowledges that the odds of gas leaking and igniting anywhere near her are remote, if the gas does explode, the farmhouse and outbuildings are within the danger zone.

“From my perspective, they put my life at risk, all our property, all our heritage,” says Leech. “I know the odds of something happening are very, very small. But I had a brother killed in a farm accident. My grandmother died in an accident. My husband was working for the Pentagon on 9/11. I was at Virginia Tech during the mass shooting. Things happen. We’ll have to live with the risk for the rest of time.”

Leech is just one of thousands of residents along the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) who worry about the safety risks. Like many others, she remains unpersuaded by Dominion assurances that the ACP will incorporate the latest, greatest technology, best practices, and specifications that exceed federal safety standards. Running pipe on the steep slopes and through sinkhole-ridden karst geology of the mountainous Nelson and Augusta counties poses issues that pipelines don’t encounter in less rugged terrain.

“The possibility of an explosion is the really frightening thing,” she says. “You can come up with statistics that make it seem very remote. The problem is, if it occurs, it’s really deadly.”

Dominion responds that it is pushing the envelope of industry best practices to ensure the safe operation of the pipeline, which, if approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), would run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. “We’re a safety first company,” says Dominion Transmission spokesman Aaron Ruby. That’s not a P.R. slogan, he insists. An emphasis on safety permeates the organizational culture and informs everything the company does.

Dominion makes every reasonable effort to accommodate landowners like Leech, says Ruby. The company has offered to re-route the pipeline from an 800-foot distance from her farmhouse to 1,900 feet, he says, “but she has refused to let us survey her property to see if the alternative is suitable.”

In the meantime, the company is designing safety into pipeline construction and operations at every step, says Leslie Hartz, vice president of pipeline construction. The quality-control process entails a rigorous inspection protocol for fabricating the pipe in the mill, and then X-ray and hydrostatic testing of pipes and welding in the field. When up and running, ACP will use robots to inspect the pipe interior and will deploy aerial patrols and sensors to monitor the exterior. If conditions deviate from narrowly defined parameters, operators will not hesitate to shut down the pipeline.

Pipelines co-exist with people all around the country, and hardly anyone thinks about it, says Ruby. As an example in Virginia, he cites Lake Monticello, a bedroom community in the Charlottesville metropolitan region with a 2010 population of almost 10,000. “Lake Monticello …. developed over many decades alongside four large-diameter natural gas pipelines!”

The Big Picture

Interstate gas pipelines are the safest mode of energy transportation, says Catherine Landry, a spokesperson for the Interstate Natural Gas Alliance of America (INGAA). “Last year 99.999997% of gas moved without incident.” That compares very favorably to moving propane or petroleum by truck or rail.

Interstate pipeline safety has been regulated since 2004 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). In 2011, PHMSA added to existing protections by requiring pipeline companies to implement Integrity Management Programs in populated areas. These measures, along with new technology such as sensor-laden robots, known as “pigs,” brought about a dramatic decline in pipeline leaks and other incidents.

Nevertheless, devastating explosions still occur. In 2015 PHMSA reported 143 transmission pipeline “incidents” involving six fatalities, 14 injuries and $51 million of property damage in the U.S. The number of incidents that year was the highest in 20 years, and the number of fatalities and injuries the third highest. The picture for Virginia was more benign. There have been only nine “incidents” reported in the past 20 years, with zero fatalities, zero injuries and only $6.2 million in cost, according to PHMSA data. (For whatever reason, the twenty-year PHMSA data does not reflect five injuries sustained in a 2008 explosion on the Williams Transco pipeline near Appomattox.)

Image credit: Pipeline Safety Trust

One might think that newer pipelines are safer than pipelines installed years ago, but that’s not necessarily the case, asserts the Pipeline Safety Trust, which broke down pipeline “incidents” reported to federal regulators by the decade in which the pipes were installed. As expected, older pipelines tended to experience more incidents during the 2005-2013 time period. However, the most recently installed pipelines showed the greatest frequency of incidents when measured by the number per 10,000 miles of pipe.

“Is this a reflection of “getting the kinks out” when pipelines are first installed?” commented the Pipeline Safety Trust? “Is it a pattern that will continue or change? Unfortunately, we don’t have the kind of data we would need to replicate this analysis in decades past, so it will only be in the future that we’re able to answer our questions. The graphs are concerning to us, though, as one interpretation of the results is that some pipelines are initially installed with weak and vulnerable aspects which fail; and only after fixing these initial failures do the pipelines operate safely.”

The Pipeline Safety Trust analysis neglected to mention that of the 11 transmission line incidents involving pipelines installed since 2010, there was only one rupture, zero fatalities and zero injuries, according to an INGAA critique of the analysis. The estimated cost of public property damage for 2010s-era pipelines likewise was zero. The incident resulting in an ignition involved a one-inch power gas line.

“What it comes down to,” says Landry, “is something called a bathtub curve” — a term in reliability engineering that describes how failure rates tend to be high in the early stages, decline as experience is gained and lessons learned, and then increase again as systems age and wear out. “You see more incidents at the beginning of the life of a pipeline. … Little tiny things come up when pipelines are run for the first time,” she says.

By definition, pipelines built since 2010 are newer and more likely to experience early-failure incidents, says Landry. But the incidents are minor. Pipelines are getting safer, not more dangerous.

Dominion quality control

Dominion executives speak with genuine pride about company measures to make the ACP safe. The precautions begin with the high-grade specifications for pipe fabrication. Dominion has contracted with Dura-Bond Industries in Steelton, Pa., to manufacture pipe up to 42 inches in width using steel up to 7/8 inches thick for the widest pipe, capable of withstanding considerably more than the maximum 1,440 pounds per square inch of pressure the pipeline will experience. All seams and welds are x-ray and hydrostatically tested, and inspected in the factory for minute imperfections. Dominion’s contract inspectors watch the manufacturing process and send back daily reports.

Each section of 40-foot pipe has many hurdles to pass before it can pass inspection, says Hartz. “Our mill folks says our specs are the tightest they’ve ever encountered.”

The attention to quality will extend into the field, where construction contractors will likewise be held to tight performance specs. X-rays will be made of seams and field wells, and lengths of pipe will be subjected to hydrostatic testing, in which water is pumped up to one-and-a-half times the design pressure to identify any potential weak points.

Every pipe section will be bar-coded with a unique identifier, and every test associated with that section will be archived. When the pipe is put into the ground, Dominion will record its exact position and will be able to call up its full documentation. “Everything is documented and field inspected,” says Hartz. In quality management lingo, the pipe is “traceable, verifiable and complete.”

Anti-corrosion coating on the steel will be supplemented by sending electric currents down the pipe to divert corrosive elements to “sacrificial anodes” that absorb the wear and tear and can be readily replaced.

Dominion also has designed the ACP to be, in the word of Christie Neller, vice president of system engineering, “piggable.” That means that virtually the entire length of the 600-mile pipeline will accommodate sensor-laden robots that will conduct periodic inspections of the interior. Turning a noun into a verb, Neller says Dominion is not required by regulations to “pig” the entire pipeline, but it will to meet its own standards.

The company will supplement the pigs with aerial patrols every month to look for anything that might effect the pipeline’s integrity. “If we identify anything, we send out a foot patrol,” says Neller, who is in charge of pipeline operations and maintenance. Dozens of sensors along the pipeline will continually monitor pressure, temperature and flow rate. Any deviation from tight parameters will trigger an alert for a controller to take a closer look. “We will know exactly what’s going on in real time.”

Aftermath of Appomattox explosion. Photo credit: Pipeline Safety Trust
Aftermath of Appomattox explosion. Photo credit: Pipeline Safety Trust

The Appomattox explosion

Dominion’s commitment to quality and safety does not reassure everyone. Some still remember the explosion of the Transco pipeline in Appomattox eight years ago.

Williams Transco, a pipeline company with decades of experience, operates a major trunk line that runs from the Gulf of Mexico gasfields through Virginia to major Northern markets. In 2008 a failure on Line B released a large amount of gas, which ignited and produced a fireball, creating a a 37-foot wide, 15-foot deep crater and a burn zone approximately 1,125 feet in diameter. Emergency responders evacuated 23 families and closed nearby roads, including Route 26 and Route 460. Five people were injured, requiring hospitalization, and two houses were destroyed in the fire.

PHMSA levied a $950,000 fine against Williams Transco after federal regulators found possible failures “to address regulatory requirements for monitoring and preventing external corrosion.”

Orange shows the potential impact zone of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route through Deerfield in Augusta County; yellow shows the evacuation zone. Image credit: Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. (Click for larger image.)

Pipeline foes point to the Appomattox explosion as an example of what could happen anywhere along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. While Dominion has made an effort to avoid populated areas, the pipeline does run through some rural communities. People living within the “potential impact radius” — the area that potentially could suffer injury in a pipeline explosion — number in the hundreds.

People living within the evacuation zone number about 10,000 out of 70,000 residents in Augusta County alone, says Nancy Sorrells, co-chair of the Augusta County Alliance. People living in a larger zone subject to evacuation would have to drop everything and leave in the event of an incident.

While the chances of an explosion or even an evacuation may  be slim as “winning the lottery,” says Sorrells, pipeline construction will prove very disruptive for locales like the Deerfield Valley, which have limited options for getting and out.

“Construction accidents could shut down roads and close people off,” she says. “Even if there’s not a construction accident, if someone has a heart attack or a house catches on fire, would emergency services have access? If a farmer’s barn is burning, could a fully loaded, 59,000-pound firetruck get through the construction work? … [Construction] is going to be a huge inconvenience as it progresses for a few weeks. And after the pipeline is in operation, a fully loaded truck could only cross the line in designated areas, so one better hope that the firetruck is near one of those reinforced crossings.”

No one wants to live under the threat, no matter how small, of a pipeline explosion, Sorrells says. “That can affect your property values. I get get calls from real estate people wanting to know how far a house is from the pipeline route. … I know a lady whose husband has Alzheimers. She says her husband loves living out there in Deerfield, but one day soon she will have to sell the property in order to move to where her husband’s needs can be met. She wonders if anyone will want to buy it.”

Ruby gets frustrated when he hears such concerns. “It’s a construction project! We’re using the roads to get to work sites. It’s not as if the roads will be impassable or life will grind to a halt. Do people raise these kinds of issues for major road repairs or installation of a sewer line?”

In a study encompassing Highland, Augusta, Nelson, and Buckingham Counties in Virginia, Key-Log Economics found in a study funded by pipeline foes that 8,762 homes and 15,128 people would be located within the 1.4-mile evacuation band along the route. More than 31,000 parcels in the four-county area would have a view of the pipeline. Total property value lost would run between $56 million to $80 million, not including the loss in value due to disrupted viewsheds or ecosystem services. A Key-Log study of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline found a comparable impact.

By contrast, an INGAA study of pipeline impact on property values in communities in Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania found “no measurable impact on the sales price of properties located along or in proximity to a natural gas pipeline versus properties which are not located along or in proximity to the same pipeline.” While that conclusion held true collectively for the five areas studied, the one rural area studied, in New Jersey, did show a modestly negative impact on property values.

Augusta County sinkhole. Photo credit: Augusta County Alliance
Augusta County sinkhole. Photo credit: Augusta County Alliance

Sinkholes and Landslides

Pipeline foes worry that the ACP will run through rugged terrain that could trigger landslides, and karst geology that could expose the pipeline to sinkholes, either of which conditions that could undermine the pipeline foundations, stress the pipe and cause gas leaks.

Ideally, pipelines would traverse up and down slopes and avoid running along mountainsides that would expose them to landslides. But in its effort to side-step populated areas and historical, cultural and environmental resources, Dominion has been forced to route the pipeline along some mountainside slopes.

“Pipeline integrity is threatened by landslides and slope failures,” says Rick Webb, coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. “On these types of mountains with shallow soil, there’s not much to hold the surficial material there. The backfilled material will not be well anchored. You’ve also got a problem in stream beds. … During the Hurricane Camille and other floods in the 1990s, he says, “we had whole mountainsides slip and slide into the valley. Valleys were scoured. Forest-covered riparian areas were just barren rock. … Pipelines in situations like that just won’t hold up. Dominion has had problems with slope failures in conditions that are much less extreme.”

The karst geology poses another problem. The limestone rock is riddled with caves and underground caves, and large sink-holes are prone to appear out of nowhere. “Karst is a problem in terms of structural integrity,” says Webb. If a large hole opens up under a pipeline, it can put enormous pressure where the sections are welded together. “If a weld breaks, the gas leaks. … All that pressurized gas escapes and comes into contact with an ignition source, and it explodes.”

Dominion executives counter that they are well aware of the challenges of building in mountainous terrain.

“Dominion Transmission has built 400 miles of pipeline in rugged terrain in West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” says Hartz. “We have lots of experience.” While the company has not yet settled upon a contractor to build the ACP, it has narrowed the field to firms that have extensive experience in mountains. Furthermore, Dominion is hiring a geotech consulting company that specializes in slope stability. “We’re taking soil samples and analyzing them to tell if the soil is prone to slipping.” The engineering design will incorporate best-in-class standards to ensure that the pipeline “stays put.”

Pipelines in Mid-Atlantic states crossing karst terrain. Map credit: Dominion

As for karst, limestone geology is hardly limited to the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Forty percent of the land mass, including almost all of Florida, is karst,” says Ruby. Many east-west pipelines running through the Mid-Atlantic encounter karst and steep slopes.

The construction challenges are well understood, and the industry has learned to deal with them, says Ruby. In an Environmental Impact Statement for the Sabal Trail Transmission project in Georgia and Florida, FERC concluded:

Based on an extensive review of publicly available information, we have found no evidence that karst hazards such as sinkhole development pose a safety or integrity risk to interstate transmission pipeline facilities. For these reasons, we conclude that the SMP Project would not significantly affect public safety.

“We have identified sensitive karst features to avoid, like voids, sinking rivers, springs and water discharge areas,” says Hartz. “We avoid known caves and sinkholes. We’ve walked the route with karst experts and made adjustments. We’ve conducted electrical resistivity tests to identify voids underground not visible to the eye.”

Even if a sinkhole materializes directly under a pipeline, “it would have to be huge to cause a safety problem,” Hartz says. The pipe is not only strong but it is surprisingly flexible. The ability to bend reduces the chances of incurring stress fractures that might cause leaks.

The photo above shows a 30-foot sinkhole that suddenly appeared in Augusta County on a Dominion underground power line easement, exposing telephone, cable and electric lines. County officials and the landowner asked Dominion to fill in the hole, but after hiring a consultant to look into it, declared that it was not responsible for causing the sinkhole. The company moved its power lines but did not volunteer to fix the pit. For a modest sum, says Sorrells, Dominion could have filled the hole and proved to Augusta residents that it was a good neighbor and knew how to deal with sinkholes. “They proved they could do none of that.”

Dominion’s response: (a) It didn’t create the sinkhole, so it shouldn’t have to pay to fill it in, and (b) a 30-foot sinkhole would not threaten the integrity of a 40-foot pipeline section. The company’s engineering analysis shows that it would take a sinkhole “well over 100 feet” across — and that, says Ruby, is a conservative estimate — to threaten the structural integrity of the pipeline. Sinkholes of that size are an extreme rarity, he adds.


Dominion officials can say what they want, but Webb and pipeline foes do not trust the regulatory system.

“The largest construction projects in the last 50 years are basically operating without state oversight. Federal oversight is, if possible, even less rigorous,” Webb says. “I have a profound lack of faith in the process. It’s a fundamentally broken regulatory system … We’ve seen over and over how contractors have cut corners and created environmental and safety issues.”

The only authority that the Department of Environmental Quality exercises over interstate pipeline construction the granting of variances to erosion and sediment control standards plans, says Webb. Dominion has indicated that it plans to ask for variances to the 500-foot open-trench limit, allowing one-mile stretches and longer. In projects permitted by the state since 2012, DEQ and the Department of Conservation and Recreation have issued some 15 variances, effectively providing no oversight. “They’ve basically made state law moot.”

In effect, Webb charges, Dominion is allowed to self-regulate.

For their part, Dominion executives insist that they adhere to PHMSA safety regulations, are subject to FERC and DEQ oversight, and abide by their own strict inspection protocol. Dominion inspects the pipe fabrication, inspects the pipeline construction, uses pigs to inspect inside the pipeline, and employs aerial surveys and sensors to monitor performance. The company documents tests and inspections for every piece of pipe and every piece of welding.

“We’ll meet not only the letter of the law, but the intent” says Hartz. “Ignoring a safety issue that could shut down the pipeline for an extended pipeline is not good business. There are reputational costs and regulatory costs. We take safety very seriously.”

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25 responses to “Justifiable Jitters or Unwarranted Worry?”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka


    Leaking natural gas pipeline explodes, killing hundreds in nearby trains. Ufa, Russia, 1989.

    1. TBill Avatar

      Peter- Didn’t we already discuss that this Russian accident was not natural gas, rather it was a liquid propane/butane mix? Not the same situation from a chemical safety perspective.

      Jim’s Appomattox example is the better example, sounds like poor maintenance in that case.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Why does Dominion want to essentially vertically integrate into an area where it has far less expertise and experience than existing companies like Transco in the first place ?

    And why does the State and Feds let Dominion (or any corporation) pursue duplicative facilities rather than require -as much as possible – using existing corridors and right of ways?

    And why does Dominion not want to treat property owners in those proposed corridors as actual stakeholders and stockholders – with guaranteed continuing income like we see for cell tower leases rather than losers in hostile takeovers?

    I don’t think Dominion has tried at all to be a “good neighbor” except in their own minds.

    A REAL “good neighbor” does what the Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) folks did which was to acquire 1352 miles of right of way through 4,843 tracts with more than 6,500 individual owners that they call “stakeholders” because they acquired more than 95% of that land via willing seller/willing buyer – not eminent domain.


    I simply do not think it’s in the public’s interest to let Dominion build duplicative infrastructure and do it at the direct expense and risk of property owners who bear the risk and degradation of property and do not share in the revenues.

    ALL this blather here in BR about the”free market” and on THIS issue – BR just rolls over and sucks up to a govt-granted monopoly that essentially is using govt-provided eminent domain to prey on property owners so it can directly compete against existing pipeline companies… who are more than capable of providing the need for far less impacts.

    There is little real justification for what Dominion is doing – it’s basically a corporation using the govt to gain a superior competitive position against other existing private sector pipeline companies and it’s doing it on the backs of private landowners.

    It this is really needed, then Virginia and the Feds solicit competitive PPTA proposals instead of this wild wild west free-for-all.

  3. These are difficult and contentious issues. The environmental team that I led for a utility in New York State was often smack in the middle of controversies like this. Our people were often the ones relating directly with the public, hearing their outrage and sometimes overstated fears and we would many times have to translate the responses of the engineers into a form that would make sense to the general public.

    My experience was that the designers and manufacturers of components were careful and produced quality products. It was at the construction site where most problems arose.

    I can’t say how many stern conversations I had with our head of a multi-billion dollar construction project. Following the regulated environmental protections cost him money and slowed him down. No directives were ever given to contractors to cut corners on environmental protections as far as I know, but that saved them time and money too.

    Everyone seemed to have a general arrogant attitude of “Don’t worry, we have done this before”. Their experience and best practices worked well until they encountered a site specific situation where it didn’t. Even though there were on site inspectors from my utility team and periodic visits from state regulators, so much was going on simultaneously, things that were not supposed to occur did. Some required expensive remediation or other fixes.

    This was in a state with stringent regulatory oversight for environmental issues. Things are far more lax in Virginia. The DEQ is asking the ACP to follow only “project specific” erosion and sediment control plans. The ACP should be required to provide “site” specific erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans for every disturbed mountainside, stream crossing, access road, and staging area – just like any other construction project.

    Last year, on the right-of-way of a pipeline construction project in the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley, the contractor-designed erosion control system shunted the runoff contaminated with diesel fuel into a nearby sinkhole. Karst has underground aquifers that run for miles. In this case, wells for a town’s water supply several miles away from the point of contamination were affected. The local water supply was shut down for several weeks and water had to be obtained from the next nearest town.

    Even though we have encountered karst in construction projects in other locations does not mean we understand how it works or can anticipate what might happen. The Virginia DOT has a full time geologist monitoring developments along I-81 for sinkholes and other destabilizing events that are constantly occurring in this area. No such concern or attention has been proposed for the pipeline.

    We also tend to look upon regulatory solutions as a “fix”. I doubt that any welding inspection program was more rigorous than that required for the construction of nuclear power plants. But we have a nationwide record of faulty welds, fudged inspections, coverups and related equipment failures.

    We will never be free of risk. But most of the time we take on risk by choice. We choose to drive, take a plane, skydive, eat fast food, whatever. In the case of the ACP, thousands of people are being asked to assume a risk that they would otherwise prefer to avoid. If they want to move away from it, they only can sell their property for tens of thousands of dollars less than its value before it was known the pipeline would be on their land, if any buyers exist at all.

    Normally, we say that some must sacrifice for the good of many. That is the principle behind eminent domain. But no such greater good exists with the ACP. Transco is planning to move at least 5-7 billion cubic per day (Bcf/d) of gas southward from the Marcellus all the way to Alabama. This is far more than the 1.5 Bcf/day proposed for the ACP. Columbia Gas is also adding 1.3 Bcf/d to the supplies in this region. Dominion was one of the first customers to use this means of moving gas south from the Marcellus when they contracted with Transco for 20 years to supply the new Brunswick and Greensville plants.

    We do not need the ACP to have plentiful supplies of natural gas for the southeast. The customers for the Transco expansion are mostly gas producers eagerly looking for the end-user utility customers coerced by their parent companies to sign up for the ACP.

    If this was an open choice transaction for the gas buyers and the landowners, I would say let the market decide. But the ratepayers are given no say about whether they want to pay more to transport gas to the power plants via the ACP or with lower cost existing pipelines. The landowners are forced to endure the impacts, risks and lower property values solely to benefit shareholders and not the citizens of Virginia.

    Many see this only as a NIMBY or tree hugger issue. But it is also an issue of fundamental rights. Our courts and government agencies were initially created to fairly hear various viewpoints and have some balance when deciding an outcome. Certainly that is supposed to be the case in the development of our energy system. Increasingly, our legislative and regulatory apparatus is doing the bidding of a few special interests. The voice of the individual citizen is seldom heard. Innovators and entrepreneurs eagerly await a more level playing field in order to provide cleaner, cheaper, better choices for meeting our energy needs, but are foreclosed by the long-time owners of the public policy apparatus.

  4. Just a reminder. The INGAA studies were all comparisons of essentially the same type of property. They compared properties in the right-of-way with properties in the blast zone or the evacuation zone. All of the properties were affected by the pipeline in some way. Other times the houses had grown up around the pipeline so that it looked like any other neighborhood. They did not know that they lived in risk of incineration. A price is supposed to reflect “fully informed” buyers and sellers.

    There was a recent gas pipeline explosion in Pennsylvania I think. Fortunately, residents of the destroyed houses were all a work at the time.

  5. Don’t fool yourself, those pipelines leak all the time. There are two pipelines running through my neighborhood – Washington Gas and Columbia Gas. Just yesterday there was a leak from the Washington Gas pipeline. Fairfax County Fire Department had to shut down Walker Rd until the repair could be made. The Columbia Gas pipeline was leaking about a year ago.

    How were these leaks discovered? High tech internet of things sensors? Hell no. In both cases my neighbors could smell the gas and called the gas company (who, in turn, called the fire department).

    1. Those are distribution lines. They seem to be the leakiest part of the natural gas system. The odorant isn’t added until the distribution system, so if you can smell gas, it’s coming from a small line. The big transmission lines leak too and all sorts of volatile organic compounds are released by the compressor stations.

      USA Today had this to say about the gas pipeline explosion on April 29, 2016 outside of Pittsburgh:

      “An explosion at a natural gas pipeline east of Pittsburgh sent a fireball into the air Friday and destroyed at least one nearby home. A resident was burned while fleeing the scene, authorities said.

      “It looked like you were looking down into hell,” said Forbes Road Volunteer Fire Chief Bob Rosatti, the Associated Press reported.

      The fire erupted in Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County, and forced the evacuation of about a dozen homes in a quarter-mile zone, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister. . .

      The man who was burned lived in the house closest to the fire that was destroyed, according to the AP. “He told us that he heard a loud noise and compared it to a tornado. All he saw was fire and started running up the roadway and a passerby picked him up,” Rosatti said. . .

      The state Department of Environmental Protection said the blast was traced to a 36-inch pipeline owned by Texas Eastern Transmission.”

      Yale University developed some new devices that is making it easier to more accurately measure natural gas leaks. Studies using this new equipment are showing that natural gas leaks are more widespread and in greater amounts than we have previously assumed. This is especially important for climate issues because natural gas is 26-84 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The lower multiple relates to methane 20 years after it is released.

  6. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Dominion claims the construction and monitoring processes the company is using to develop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are extremely safe, as safe as the industry can build. That is very possible, although it would be easier to believe if the company wasn’t fighting to spend as little as possible cleaning up the coal ash pits in Virginia, and if the regulations that safeguard our environment from pipeline issues had not been sloppily handled in the ACP submission documents.

    That said, when FERC approves a new pipeline, the agency has the responsibility to evaluate and explain … the need for the project, the availability of any alternatives to the project, and the environmental impacts of each alternative. So far we can only call those examinations by FERC cursory at best or even non-existent.

    Regarding actual need … Evaluation of the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been limited to determining that there are contracts for natural gas to be delivered by way of the pipeline. Those contracts evidently exist, but in fact they may be a violation of anti-trust law, as the contracts are with another division of the pipeline owners companies. Financial incentives encourage this potentially illegal relationship. When a regulated utility’s parent company is building the pipeline, that parent company has the incentive to capture the rate-guaranteed high return, up to a possible 14% granted by FERC, by owning the pipeline regardless of the availability of other carrying capacity.

    Does existing carrying capacity exist? Dominion’s gas plants, including contract holders the Brunswick and Greensville plants, can be served with existing pipeline capacity. According to Environmental Information Agency data, average capacity utilization in 2014 for pipelines flowing out of West Virginia was 33%. Utilization of pipelines flowing into Virginia was 23% and, into North Carolina, 37%. Another analysis shows that … pipeline capacity out of Appalachia is expected to exceed gas production starting in 2017 and will exceed production through 2030. Range Resources, one of the largest Appalachian shale drillers, expects that “the Appalachian Basin’s takeaway capacity will be largely overbuilt by the 2016-2017 time-frame with production peaking around 2028,” certainly well before the pipeline’s useful life of forty years. The conclusion of another new report, “Risks Associated With Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion in Appalachia” by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, clearly states that the ACP is not necessary.

    Finally, PJM, our regional transmission operator, has just completed its capacity auction and the clear takeaway is … “”The load forecast is down … supplier payouts for guaranteed capacity dropped 39%. … 1,515 MW of efficiency cleared … in addition to 335 MW of solar generation capacity and 969 MW of wind generation capacity.” While low priced gas generation is playing a big role, the direction of the market is seen in reduced central grid demand brought about by efficient buildings, demand response and on-site generation.

    This pipeline looks like a bad deal for utility customers. Dominion should be looking to a different future. Distributed solar is here to stay at increasing scale. A Brookings study concludes … utilities can also push the envelope on grid modernization by investing in a more digital and distributed power grid that enables interaction with thousands of distributed energy resources and devices. That is where our money should be directed.

  7. I thought I would pass on an article that appeared in the Staunton News Leader on May 21 regarding the ACP and the awareness and experience of some of the contractors working on the pipeline:

    Written by Nancy Sorrells

    “Dominion talks safety a lot. But the boots-on-the-ground people doing Dominion’s work are contractors coming from places far from Augusta County and may not have heard Dominion’s safety message. The result is a chasm of disconnect between corporate mantra and reality.

    I recently went along with Dominion contractors documenting pre-existing conditions near the proposed pipeline corridor. The West Virginia company, hired to draw pictures and take photographs, had never heard the word “karst,” were astounded that we had sinkholes, knew nothing about locations of fault lines, and had no idea about the most basic Atlantic Coast Pipeline details.

    We know there will be problems with ACP construction and operation. Why are we certain? Because we have witnessed Dominion contractors in action as they upgrade existing transmission lines and survey for the ACP.

    We have seen a sinkhole that Dominion refuses to repair, a cracked foundation from blasting they refuse to fix, erosion and sediment control violations left unattended, dead cattle from poor field maintenance and piles of human feces and used shop towels left by contractors on private property.

    And that is just from Dominion’s power line work. To that we add a litany of misinformation, rudeness and deceit during preliminary ACP work.

    What about their pipeline contractors elsewhere? To learn more about the disconnect between the company’s corporate public relations and its on-the-ground contractor performance, check out Dominion’s G-150 pipeline in northwestern West Virginia (a 50-mile long, 30-inch pipeline built in 2012-13) that was the subject of a consent order with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection after serial non-compliance and delayed remediation. There were 14 violation notices issued for slope failures. The Dominion spokesman stated that “in this case it did not meet its own expectations.”

    Or how about the Stonewall Gathering pipeline in central West Virginia (36 inches, about 50 miles, built in 2015) that incurred numerous violation notices including intentional discharge into a wetland and stream and generally poor maintenance of runoff control structures. Although not Dominion’s pipeline, at least one and perhaps two of the project contractors will be part of the ACP project. The project designer, GAI Inc., was represented at Dominion’s ACP open houses and will presumably be working for the ACP.

    Both of these were smaller pipelines and not in the same karst type or steep mountainous terrain through which the ACP is proposed. Dominion has never constructed a 42-inch pipeline. No company has ever attempted to build a 42-inch natural gas line in steep, forested mountainous terrain like that in western Virginia and West Virginia. Dominion has warned its stockholders about the route: “The large diameter of the pipeline and difficult terrain of certain portions of the proposed pipeline route aggravate the typical construction risks”

    There is a reason no one has ever run a pipeline, covered with only three or four feet of earth, over such terrain that is subjected with frequent regularity to catastrophic flooding and mudslides that occur when hurricanes dump massive amounts of rain in mountain streams. Hurricane Sandy caused 1,300 natural gas line breaks. It only takes one break to wreak havoc.

    Data from the Pipeline Safety Trust shows that pipelines built in the 2010s are failing at a rate similar to the failure rate for pipelines constructed before 1940, and five times the failure rate of pipelines built in the three previous decades. This is an alarming trend. If there were something for our communities to be gained from this project, then we would rightly weigh the risks against the gains. But there is not. More and more studies show that the gas in this pipeline is not needed and in reality could be supplied faster and less expensively through infrastructure upgrades. An April 2016 study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis explains this while detailing the industry “overbuild” and the fact that existing pipelines are underutilized.

    So given the pipeline overbuild, the risk of uninformed contractors, the failure rate of new pipelines, and the disrespect Dominion has shown our community, the only question to ask is “why?””

    Nancy Sorrells lives in Greenville and is co-chair of the Augusta County Alliance, an activist group against the ACP.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think gas is paramount in importance if we are going to implement solar.

    It’s the only fuel that can run in tandem with wind/solar and to vary it’s output to match the varying output of wind and solar.

    Without some way to mitigate the peaks and valley’s of electricity output from wind and solar – their use is problematic and Dominion would be right to express concern about the ability of the grid to react to real time variations of wind/solar inputs.

    But natural gas peaker plants were ready-made to run and ramp up and down quickly – initially – prior to solar – to step in when demand exceeded baseload supply – abeit at a cost about 7 times as much as coal.

    Since that time – the price of gas has plummeted – so much that it can be used to power baseload combined-cycle plants which cannot ramp up and down in real time as peaker plants can.

    The problem is that using 3, 4, 5 times as much natural gas to power combined cycle plants is using a resource that is finite – and limited and when it becomes scarce – it will become much more expensive to use.

    What we should be doing is – expanding wind/solar and use gas at peakers in hybrid mode – to essentially vary in realtime in response to varying wind/solar inputs. That would use much less gas than using it for baseload and it would extend the length of time we’d have abundant enough lower priced reserves.

    Using gas that way – may well allow existing pipeline capacities to supply that level of use.

    So the ACP is large because Dominion plans to us it in far larger flows to power baseload combined-cycle gas plants – rather than peakers.

    It may also be planning to export any that is excess to their needs to power the combined cycle plants.

    The question is – is that “plan” in the public interest or is it more in the corporate investor interests.

    Has anyone done the analyses as to how much gas Dominion intends to use and for what purpose – i.e. to power combined cycle baseload or not?

    I’m going to assume – perhaps wrongly – that the safety issue while important will be worked out like most pipelines are – and if they as a group or as individual pipelines are deemed not safe enough – then Dominion will have to either fix them or shut the down -as is the case right now with existing pipelines.

    And no , I do not think pipelines are “safe” in a 100% sense – no more or less than I do rail or road which also have disasters. It is what it is – but we can’t be denying the building of roads, rail or pipelines over “safety” concerns as if those concerns justify not have the road, rail or pipeline at all.

    but there is a very legitimate issue as to why we have to build new pipelines over new corridors if the existing pipeline grid is sufficient or could be expanded with far less new pipeline and corridors.

    that’s not a “conservative” idea and it’s not in the best interests of the public especially if the reason is that Dominion wants to compete against existing companies by using powers of govt and ratepayers to build a competing pipeline.

    Dominion is pretty much acting like the 600lb gorilla – whether it’s the pipeline or coal ash or powerlines over the James – it’s all about what Dominion wants and to heck with the public … Dominion will decide what is in the public interest …without any interference …from the public.

    1. Larry, I am not sure what you mean by running peakers in “hybrid mode”, but your notion is exactly right.

      Virginia Power Services (a Dominion subsidiary) has contracted for 0.300 billion cubic feet per day from the ACP to sell to Dominion Virginia Power. The new Brunswick and Greensville plants have each contracted for 0.250 Bcf/d from Transco so Dominion’s share of the ACP is enough for one new combined cycle plant plus some extra for all of the new peaking capacity they plan to build for the new solar that they want to develop.

      Why build over 300 miles of 42″ pipeline on new right-of-way through West Virginia and Virginia just to power one more natural gas power plant that might not even be needed? The gas needed for North Carolina could be obtained by tapping the Transco corridor in North Carolina and building a much shorter 30″ pipeline, a good share of which might be built on existing right-of-way.

      The North Carolina Utility Commission has intervened in the FERC proceeding to protest that NC ratepayers are having to pay more than they should because FERC is allowing Duke a 15% rate of return where intrastate pipeline projects would only be allowed an 11% return.

      The Hampton area could likely be provided their share (0.155 Bcf/d to AGL) by improving the existing connection to the Columbia Gas line which will have an increased capacity of 1.3 Bcf/d in W VA and Virginia. This could be done with a short line on existing right-of-way instead of 77 miles of new 20″ pipeline into North Carolina.

      Duke and Dominion are unregulated utility holding companies and they have a right to propose what best serves their shareholders. But citizens also have the right to expect that their public agencies (FERC in this case) do more than rubber stamp approvals for projects without investigating whether they are in the public interest before granting the power of eminent domain and creating a host of unnecessary impacts.

  9. […] New Times) • Even clean energy has its costs. (The News & Advance) • Are concerns about possible pipeline explosions in Virginia justifiable jitters or unwarranted worry? (Bacon's Rebellion […]

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Actually it was a form of natural gas, a thorough Web search shows. What type of natural gas do you think will be pushed through the ACL.

    It is also curious that your comment came in after 5 p.m. and somehow it was placed directly under the picture I posted. It was placed right under mine ahead of comments that were posted earlier.

    I guess Jim is getting paid by Dominion to dissuade criticism or at least blunt it.

    I find these attempts to diminish facts really objectionable. Maybe I’ll just quit commenting. Why bother with my time?

    1. “I guess Jim is getting paid by Dominion to dissuade criticism or at least blunt it.

      I find these attempts to diminish facts really objectionable.”

      Peter, you’re way out of line. I’ve never “manipulated” anything in the comments. To the contrary, I encourage anyone and everyone representing all perspectives to contribute their comments and add to the dialogue. I have even invited Dominion opponents to contribute to op-eds. The proof of my openness to all points of view is that I have tolerated your many comments that have impugned my personal integrity as a journalist. If I’d said the same things about you that you’ve said about me, you’d be calling your lawyer.

    2. TBill Avatar

      Peter- When I posted previously, I simply made a reply to your post which was showing as the first top comment.

      According to Wikipedia. which I believe you referenced previously, the Russian case you cite was a liquid natural gas (LPG: propane/butane) pipeline, whereas liquid natural gas is heavier than air and has the safety issue of clinging to the ground upon leaking. The ACP will be methane (lighter than air) in the compressed natural gas. Compressed natural gas (CNG) has safety concerns also, but the Ufa Russian accident example is not analogous.

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Why is it that TomH posts several comments earlier and then the one about the Ufa picture timed at 5:25 p.m. shows up right under the picture?
    Can you explain that?

    1. I presume that Tom’s reply to your comment appeared directly under your comment because he posted it as a “reply” to that specific comment rather than enter a new comment at the bottom of the page.

      Regardless, Word Press does not provide me any tools to “manipulate” the order in which the comments appear. I can delete and edit and highlight but not (to my knowledge) affect the order of comments on the page.

  12. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Dominion’s gas plans for the future, in addition to Brunswick and Greensville plants, are certainly not about peaking and smoothing.

    “Dominion’s business plan, calling for over 9,000 megawatts of new natural gas generation, would INCREASE CO2 emissions by 60%.” This in the face of Dominion’s brief in favor of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Maybe they have yet to realize that methane is a green house gas? Incidently, methane is 75 times more potent than CO2 while it is in the atmosphere. Measurement confusion arises because methane dissipates in 10-15 years while CO2 sticks around for 100+ years.

    “Dominion wants approval of its massive Atlantic Coast Pipeline. … That pipeline, and more, will be needed to feed the gaping maws of all those gas plants. Conversely, Dominion, having gone big into the natural gas transmission business, needs to build gas generating plants to ensure demand for its pipelines.”

    And as I said in the earlier post … this does not look like a good choice for Virginia customers… “Moody’s is criticizing these moves because of the debt incurred. From a climate perspective, though, the bigger problem is that this commitment to natural gas comes right at the time when scientists and regulators are sounding the alarm about methane leakage.”

    Why does Dominion Power support EPA’s Clean Power Plan? April 9, 2016

    and thanks for posting the Staunton article, Tom H

  13. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Ok, WordPress might not let you do that.But I have my eye on you.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    it’s not at all clear – how Dominion plans on using the gas.

    is all or most of it going to fee one or more combined cycle gas plants and anything left over for something else?

    here’s transco’s current infrastructure – what needs will it not meet?


    1. Everyone should be aware that the pipeline identified on the map as the Western Marcellus Pipeline project (also known as the Appalachian Connector) is not part of Transco’s existing infrastructure. It is a 2.0 Bcf/d pipeline project that has not been submitted to FERC for approval, nor has a specific route been selected.

      The Appalachian Connector, the ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline all are attempting to do the same thing – bring gas to the southeast from the western Marcellus supply zone. My position has been that none of these are needed. By reversing flow in some of their pipelines and adding the 1.7 Bcf/d from the Atlantic Sunrise project (2017) and capacity being collected in the Leidy extension in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the Marcellus, Transco is planning to have gas supply capacity from the Marcellus to the Southeast that is 3-5 times greater than that proposed for the ACP (with more in future projects). Columbia Gas is also adding an additional 1.3 Bcf/d to this area in 2018.

      These pipelines already exist in Virginia and North Carolina and provide more flexibility to connect new power plants than does the ACP. It is much cheaper to transport gas in existing pipelines than in new pipelines, as a Senior VP of Transco told industry analysts recently.

      These pipelines provide more than enough supply to this region even with the most excessive utility power plant expansion plans. And they largely avoid the issues and impacts related to new construction.

      Using what we have first seems to be simple common sense. Especially with clear data showing that the capacity of all the pipelines that have been proposed will create 40% more pipeline capacity than the optimistic estimates say the Marcellus can produce.

      There is growing evidence that energy efficiency, and lower cost renewables, and a smarter grid will postpone or eliminate the need for many of the gas fired plants that have been proposed for future years. A mad rush forward to build all of these projects could leave ratepayers and shareholders with billions of stranded costs and a financially weaker utility.

      Let’s use what we have first. This will save money, reduce impacts and give us many years to see the long term trends much better. In times of rapid change it doesn’t make sense to build projects that last 100 years until it is absolutely clear that they are necessary.

  15. LarrytheG Avatar

    perhaps this is a better map of existing infrastructure;


    Transco’s main business is transporting gas and it is in their interest to not duplicate their own infrastructure when considering expansions.

    Dominion, on the other hand – is basically expanding their business model to also transport gas – and in that process – because they are not utilizing existing infrastructure – the question is – is building their “own” pipe instead of using existing competitors pipes – is that in the public interest?

    someone implied earlier in this thread that Dominion wants to build this 42″ pipeline for ONE combined cycle gas plant. So I have asked if that is true or are their other plants also planned?

    hard to believe that it takes a 42″ pipeline to serve on plant.

    if that is true -it calls into question the REAL cost of a new gas plant – which is usually priced at just the cost of that plant.

    If this goes through a real NEPA process – it’s going to require answers to these kinds of questions .. as NEPA starts off in the first chapter with “Purpose and Need” and the thing about NEPA is that it’s a public document not a corporate one – and the public is allowed to challenge the things stated in the Purpose and Need and to present evidence that contradicts the Purpose and Need.

    NEPA explicitly requires justification of new infrastructure that is not only not duplicative of existing infrastructure but that there are no other ways to meet the need other than the way proposed.

    That’s the way that most major infrastructure paid for with Federal and State funds is evaluated and it appears that a similar process is required for pipelines in order for Dominion to be granted a Certificate of Public Necessity.

    Their competitors are not about to let FERC give Dominion favored status over them – they’re going to demand that all of the projects be considered in terms of aggregate cumulative impacts.

    If FERC tries to not do that – they’re probably going to end up with a multi-party lawsuit including citizens and those targeted for eminent domain takings.

    A better path forward would be a PPTA or a consortium…. that utilizes as much of the existing infrastructure and corridors as possible and only greenfield sites where there is no other option.

    People realize this – they KNOW that Dominion is CHOOSING to force their way into what they want and not what is truly necessary for a public purpose.

    And this is a continuing example of how Dominion prefers to do business – doing what is in THEIR best interests and their standard excuse is that it’s “for the ratepayers” which is a total bunch of hooey.

    They need to straighten up and actually become a good corporate citizen and if they have trouble figuring out what that means then they might need to be taught.

    1. I made the remark that Dominion has reserved a supply of 0.300 Bcf/d from the ACP, which is enough to power one large combined cycle plant plus hundreds of megawatts of peakers. They plan to build more than one more natural gas plant. The ACP is intended to supply more than one new power plant though. At least three new plants are planned to connect to the ACP in North Carolina, plus supplies to natural gas distribution companies in VA and NC.

      My point was all of these customers could be supplied by existing pipelines and pay a lower cost for transporting the gas. North Carolina doesn’t need a pipeline to be built through West Virginia and Virginia in order to supply their needs. They have a much greater supply than the ACP in a pipeline that already runs through their state. Dominion has a 48% stake in the project but proposes to take only 20% of its output because they will make a lot of money from it.

      FERC’s interpretation of evaluating need for the NEPA process is to essentially determine if the project has customers. No one in the gas pipeline business wants to challenge that process because it amounts to a rubber stamp approval. They do not have to compete with other pipelines. FERC let’s everyone build the pipeline that they want. Only one pipeline project has been rejected by FERC in its history and that was because it only had one customer – an LNG plant that didn’t have any customers. The developers are now rounding up others who will say that they want the gas, so that will probably be approved as well.

      The justification for the expansion of the Transco expansion to the Southeast was given by natural gas producers looking for customers. The justification for the ACP was by customers saying they needed to build a pipeline because they had no suppliers. Rather than FERC saying only one pipeline is needed to match supply with demand, they might approve both projects. This is not a good use of resources or good public policy. It costs the public more to transport the gas and results in a huge amount of unnecessary disruption.

      Dominion and Duke are immune to this logic because they get a higher rate of return for building a pipeline than they do for building a transmission line or a power plant. They earn the most when they intend to build all three. The perverse incentives in our current regulatory structure pushes our utilities in this direction even though this is in direct opposition to the best interests of our citizens both financially and environmentally.

  16. VaConsumer Avatar

    This conversation shows how difficult it is to deal with the pipeline issues in isolation since everything is so intertwined, but I wish the safety issue had been fully discussed. It seems to have been lost in the discussion.
    We need ways to “trust but verify” that safety is the highest priority for every decision made. We are dealing with gas that is odorless and colorless – and very dangerous. The odorant is not added until the gas goes to the distribution system. The gas coming through these transmission lines will be odorless and colorless. Unless we have scientific equipment, we will not be able to smell or see escaping gas. Neither will the company representatives who fly over and walk the pipeline from time to time. This infrastructure is infamous for leaking some all the time. That’s just accepted as tolerable by many.
    The line is to be designed to use “smart PIGS” or robots that check the inside of the pipeline – but the pipeline has to be taken out of use so this can occur. That means the owners cannot sell gas during this time. Thus it is not normally done but about once every 7 to 12 years. Officials expressed surprise when a recent pipe failed, noting that it had been checked only 4 years ago and was not scheduled to be rechecked for some years. A lot of damage can occur when something is exposed to elements over even a single year, much less a decade. Mistakes happen even when care is taken and most of this infrastructure will be buried so visual checks will not be possible.
    They say the pipelines will be monitored 24/7. It will be done using technology and the plan is to use wireless technology instead of fiber. If this is to be used for decades, it seems appropriate to use the best technology available today and wireless is definitely not that. It will be difficult to get wireless reception in many of the locations planned for the pipeline. Wireless is notoriously intermittent and towers get readjusted from time to time, making reception change. It does not seem that we can depend upon true 24/7 vigilance over this infrastructure.
    Those monitoring the pipeline will not live near it. They will not have any personal risk in the game. It is impossible to afford the highest level of safety, and risks must be taken. Engineers set the standards. They consider “reasonable.” They don’t consider the emotional toll on the people living within the zone where everything will be destroyed if an accident occurs.
    Our collective opposition to paying taxes means that none of the regulators charged with safety oversight are adequately funded to do the job. The federal safety inspector has not had consistent leadership and has only recently gotten a “permanent” leader. The hearings from last summer before the US House Energy Committee are available online if you want to hear it for yourself. Congress questioned staff, but then had to acknowledge that the agency has not had personnel or budget sufficient to hold it responsible. It was questionable that the agency would be reauthorized on schedule this year since it has not done the things Congress directed when it was last reauthorized. Some sought to delay the decision, but it was reauthorized.
    The agency has been underfunded for so long that Congress passed law requiring it to prioritize high consequence areas – lightly populated rural areas are not high consequence. The standards for low consequence areas are more lenient. For example, the valves that are supposed to cut off the gas if there is an accident are placed farther apart in rural areas, meaning there will be more gas to burn off if there is an accident. More damage will result but the decision has been made that since the areas are not as heavily populated, that is a reasonable risk (i.e. low consequence areas are sacrificed).
    The General Assembly has directed the State Corporation Commission to apply for authority to inspect transmission pipelines since it already does all others. Even if the state gets that authority all it will be able to do when it finds problems is notify the feds. It will not have authority to enforce the law.
    When it comes to protecting the water, air, and land, at the federal level every possible effort is being made to keep the EPA from being able to enforce the law. Our state Department of Environmental Quality is so poorly staffed that it cannot adequately review plans to protect our environment from erosion and sedimentation. Normally, it gives utilities blanket approval for all their work for the year. It’s considered a big deal that it’s asking these companies to do a project specific plan. What is really needed is a site specific plan for each property, each body of water. We know from other recent construction that DEQ is not able to adequately oversee projects when they are under construction. They only respond when problems are identified after the fact.
    Generally, these transmission pipelines are going through localities that do not have extensive experience with natural gas – and certainly not so much gas at such high pressure. That means local emergency personnel are not experienced handling challenges related to its infrastructure.
    When safety statistics are cited, they tend to cover all sizes and kinds of pipes. The 42 inch high pressure pipes are relatively new. Thus, there is not a lot of data on them, especially over a long term, but based on what is available, there are comparatively a lot of problems. Jim tried to explain this as normal for new infrastructure, something no one should worry about. However, residents have to expect a higher failure rate for newer pipe and there is a huge difference in the risk of an 8 inch pipe under no pressure and a 42 inch high pressure pipe. There are charts that show how the area damaged increases with a larger pipe under higher pressure.
    There is no telling how long people will have to stay away from their property if there is a need to evacuate. Look how long people in California couldn’t live in their homes due to the escaping gas recently, months. We do not have a system to compensate people for this or to deal with care of livestock, crops, and other property during the evacuation period.
    What if the owners of the pipeline decide it is not profitable enough and they sell it – to a multinational company headquartered in a developing country?
    What if terrorists attack the infrastructure, especially at points where pipelines cross?
    How, in this culture of “I don’t want to pay taxes” and “I don’t want the government looking over my shoulder” are those who are forced to accept this infrastructure on their property and to live with the daily risk of an accident, supposed to trust that safety really is first? It has a cost. People who do not have their homes and their property – their heritage – exposed every day of every week of every year, set the standards for safety. They are also the primary parties responsible for monitoring the situation. Costs and profitability will always be strong drivers for these humans. There are insufficient resources available to assure adequate government inspection and enforcement. The culture is that of “trust business” to fairly balance its need to earn money with landowners’ need for safety.
    • What steps is society willing to take to assure people who will be forced to accept one-time easement payments and essentially hand over control of their land to these companies that their lives, property, and heritage will be adequately protected?
    • How can these landowners verify that safety really is everyone’s first priority?
    • How will you convince these landowners who have to live with the risk that it is a reasonable risk? Remember that through this process most landowners have had difficulty getting real answers to questions and have felt pressured and threatened, with their concerns ignored and a lot of fancy PR covering the negative aspects and embellishing the positive ones.

    1. Professional geologists from Virginia have spoken to the staff at PHMSA, the federal agency responsible for dealing with natural gas pipeline safety. To their great dismay, they discovered that this agency had no one on staff properly qualified to judge the special hazards related to the karst geology and steep side slopes that Dominion has elected to construct the pipeline upon. A federal agency charged with the specific function of pipeline safety does not have the level of personnel that VDOT has to protect the roads in the region.

      As described by the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, a preliminary comparison indicates that Dominion’s currently proposed route segment, GWNF-6 (24 miles long), is equally, if not more problematic with respect to construction, runoff management, slope stabilization, and restoration than the MNF-5 route, which Dominion previously rejected as too difficult. The percentage of the GWNF-6 route on side slopes is more than twice that of the MNF-5 route, and more significantly, the percentage of GWNF-6 route on steep side slopes is almost three times that of the MNF-5 route. Yet, Dominion has repeatedly asserted the need to avoid construction on side slopes.

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