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Gas pipeline next to oil pipeline would be 'more catastrophic' in event of failure

August 06, 2014 - Brandon Fire Chief David Kwapis understands that pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport petroleum and gas products. What he doesn't understand is the logic used to put a natural gas pipeline next to an oil pipeline.

ET Rover has proposed doing just that— placing a natural gas pipeline, measuring about 42 inches in diameter and carrying an estimated billion cubic feet of gas per day, on a 600-mile route that will take it through Brandon and Groveland townships, and in close proximity to the current Enbridge Line 6B replacement pipeline, which carries crude oil.

"It just doesn't make sense to me," said Kwapis. "If one has an incident, it will severely impact the other. Putting them right next to each other, you are tempting fate more than I would like fate to be tempted."

As the fire chief, he has already been advised by Enbridge that if a rupture or other problem were to occur with the oil pipeline, fire department personnel are to do nothing except evacuations of residents. The reality, said Kwapis, is that if something were to happen, he will get 9-1-1 calls from all over.

"If they put the natural gas pipeline in and it were to explode, it's going to leave a larger crater— a couple hundred feet," he said. "Those pipelines need to be separated. Should there ever be a failure, it would be even more catastrophic— with a huge fire from the oil pipeline if the gas pipeline explodes. Am I concerned? Yes. Am I concerned there is a pipeline carrying natural gas? Not as much, but I am highly concerned when you put it next to a petroleum pipeline. If a 42-inch gas main explodes, the crater will be huge, and Enbridge has said it will take 30-45 minutes to shut down the oil pipeline."

Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will decide whether to approve the ET Rover natural gas pipeline project, said FERC does not keep statistics on the number of pipelines approved that are in close proximity to other pipelines, but "it probably happens a lot."

"Usually the pipeline companies try to use existing rights of way," said Young-Allen. "There could be other pipelines in the same corridor. They try not to cut up more green fields, instead using what is already there."

FERC staff reviewing Rover's proposed project will take concerns about close proximity to an existing pipeline into consideration, she continued, and will put in conditions that address that. While she can't address specifics of pending cases, Young-Allen said safety is a concern to the commission and FERC staff will suggest ways to mitigate any adverse impact.

"If the pipeline company demonstrates they are not willing to adhere to the commission's strict standards, the project will be rejected," she said.

Many residents of Brandon Township are hoping Rover's proposed pipeline will be rerouted elsewhere. Jeff Axt, founder of POLAR (Protecting Our Land and Rights), led a meeting at the library July 25 regarding the Rover project and told those in attendance, the majority of whom are opposed to the pipeline, how they can formally object.

Rover is currently in the pre-filing application process with FERC. One of the complaints that Axt and other residents have is that ET Rover will not give a map of the overall route. Young-Allen said that is likely because the pipeline company is still in "open season."

"They may not have all their ducks in a row, they are probably still trying to get customers," she said. "When they get customers firmed up, there will be more specificity."

Last week, she continued, Rover submitted ten of the 13 resource reports required under the National Environmental Policy Act, addressing issues such as waterway, cultural resources, and air quality.

FERC, said Young-Allen, will prepare an environmental document to look at alternative routes. The pre-filing period Rover is currently in is also the first of four opportunities for public comments, all of which will be reviewed by FERC as well as Rover.

"The point of all of this is so that that when they file a complete application, they have addressed any concerns the public has raised and any concerns FERC would have," she said. "Once the complete application is submitted this winter, it will be posted at ferc.gov and folks can review what they are proposing."

Axt has stressed that now is the time for all township residents, not just property owners whose land the pipeline is proposed to cross, to submit comments to FERC. Comments can be viewed at ferc.gov, under e-library documents, by entering Docket # PF14-14.

Since Oct. 1, 2006, FERC has received 803 applications for natural gas pipelines. Of those, Young-Allen said 451 have been authorized, 94 are pending, two have been rejected outright because they could not meet FERC standards, and 250 have been denied or withdrawn.

At the next Brandon Township board meeting, set for 7 p.m., Aug. 11, at the township offices, 395 Mill St., the board will consider a resolution formally opposing the currently proposed route of the ET Rover pipeline.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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