Could it happen here? Could the natural gas pipeline being constructed across northern Westchester explode, endangering people, homes, schools, and the nearby Indian Point nuclear plant? “Nonsense,” said the billion-dollar Spectra Energy Corporation. “Our pipelines never explode. We take every precaution.” And Governor Cuomo and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said: “That’s true. No danger. Don’t worry.”
But on Friday, April 29th, the Texas Eastern Pipeline exploded in Salem, Pennsylvania, 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. The pipeline is owned by Spectra. Here’s what happened, according to WTAE news in Pittsburgh:
When Forbes Road fire Chief Bob Rosatti crested a hill near the intersection of Routes 22 and 819 in Salem on Friday morning, blinding flames shooting 300 feet into the air stopped him in his tracks. A quarter-mile away, he tried to get out of his truck but was beaten back by the heat of the enormous fireball. “It looked like we were looking down into hell,” he said about the massive explosion of a natural gas pipeline — one of the four largest in the country by capacity — just after 8 a.m. that seriously injured one man, damaged nearby homes and prompted a half-mile evacuation zone.
According to the Associated Press, “the fire and heat seared scores of acres of woodlands around the pipeline in Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, turning tall trees into blackened poles, melting the siding off one property, and causing wet pavement to steam. People miles away reported hearing a huge whooshing sound and feeling the ground rumble.”
The blast was felt six miles away. Several homes in this sparsely settled area were destroyed. The injured man, who was in his home 500 yards from the explosion, is in intensive care, burned all over his body. It took Spectra (based in Texas) more than an hour to shut off the gas to the pipeline, and then the gas remaining in the pipeline burned for several more hours.
According to Spectra, their gas pipelines are inspected every seven years, and the pipeline that exploded was inspected as recently as two years ago. While the explosion in Pennsylvania is the most dramatic example of pipeline-security concerns, data presented at a recent meeting of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives showed that “the new pipelines are failing even worse than the oldest pipelines.”
Moreover, the pipeline that exploded in Pennsylvania was only a 30-inch pipeline, while the one being built near Indian Point and running across northern Westchester is 42 inches in diameter, the largest in America. Safety concerns are prominent in new pipeline construction as well as older pipelines. For example, two safety inspectors who formerly worked on the Spectra pipeline in Rhode Island told an anti-pipeline group that the company was pushing workers to complete the pipeline quickly, ignoring traditional safety requirements.
For more than a year, opponents of the pipeline in northern Westchester have been demanding an independent safety review. They are not satisfied with statements from Spectra, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that there is no danger. Ironically, just hours before the Pennsylvania explosion, a leaking Spectra pipeline in eastern Tennessee caused nearby homeowners to be evacuated. According to the Columbia Daily Herald, a spokesman for Spectra said the leak was caused by a faulty pressure valve, and that “the event is a relatively common occurrence on the line,”
The Pennsylvania explosion shows that the danger posed by a giant fracked-gas pipeline is real. A pipeline explosion near Indian Point could make much of Westchester uninhabitable: “Fukushima-on-the-Hudson.” Belatedly, Gov. Cuomo has begun an “independent safety review.” But pipeline opponents are concerned that the safety review is being conducted by state agencies, not independent experts, and that there has been little or no transparency about the progress of the investigation.
Please call Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 and demand prompt action to stop the Algonquin pipeline. And you can follow this story as it develops via the website of “Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion,” www.sape2016.org.
by Frank Brodhead, representing Concerned Families of Westchester
About Frank Brodhead: Frank Brodhead is a Hastings resident and was the co-founder 15 years ago of Concerned Founders of Westchester, a peace-and-justice organization. Along with several other organizations, for the last three years they have worked to stop the Algonquin Pipeline. Frank was recently honored at WESPAC’s annual awards dinner, along with White Plains mayoral candidate Kenneth Chamberlain, Jr., jazz saxophonist Art Bennet, and Buddhist peace-walker Jun-san Yasuda.