Monday, May 9, 2016

Salem Twp, Westmoreland Twp PA pipeline explosion investigation / Executive Summary

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Salem Twp, Westmoreland Twp PA pipeline explosion investigation /
Executive Summary:

For the last 10 days I've been obsessed by researching the TETCO (Spectra) pipeline
explosion in Westmoreland County PA. 

I have uncovered some amazing things which you won't read anywhere else, including:
  1. TETCO lost all records to 750 facilities (pipe segments, M+R stations, etc)
    in a flood caused by Hurricane Allison in 2000. They asked FERC to abandon
    these facilities, which FERC granted a special exception for. (Normally they
    require documentation of these).
  2. There is a high likelihood that this pipeline was not running pure methane, but was
    transporting Wet Gas, which burns hotter.
  3. This pipeline was being operated to within 98.9% of the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP)
    which leaves no margin for error in case of a pressure surge. (see below)
  4. There was some involvement of a storage well, which may have contributed fuel to the fire.
  5. By one metric (Delta in Feet, Observed Impact Radius - Predicted PIR), this was
    (perhaps) the worst pipeline accident in US History.  (At least the worst I have seen).

    (The observed burn radius was a whopping 650'ft beyond the predicted "Potential Impact Radius")

  6. There is a larger story of untangling the extremely complex PHMSA rules regarding
    pipeline Class, High Consequence Areas, and Potential Impact Radius.
    Summary: PHMSA is NOT taking public safety into account. It's really bad
    once you understand it all.
    (see my graphic: "Following the Tainted Trail")

  7. Corrosion found may have as a contributing factor flaws in Cathodic Protection due
    to 4 pipeline segments in the same ROW.

    This is very tricky to  get right and is indicated in severe corrosion of the Keystone-1 Pipeline in
    St. Charles County MO in Oct 2012, as written about by Julie Dermansky in Desmogblog.

    (You have to dig into some of the attachments to find the mention of "stray DC currents" as a probable
    cause, and the connection to Cathodic Protection).
  8. Any root cause analysis must examine many possible contributing factors.
    There is a very easy scenario which could be a primary factor: Human Error.

    One of the 4 parallel lines was under maintenance. If a worker closed the wrong
    valve by accident (for example if he lacked records of the interconnects), this could
    have caused a pressure surge which could have caused the weakest link to fail.
Here is my results so far. It's still a Work in Progress, but I'm working to compile this
into a single PDF, and I will also probably make a short video about my findings.

Please contribute to my work:
I always have found it challenging to work a day-job
and continue with my public service work.
My present goal is to raise $600, but If I could
raise $1,000 it would really help me continue this work.

Did you ever attend a church where the minister passes
the collection plate BEFORE the service?

Where's the faith in that!?
I like to raise funds for projects I've already completed.
Here's my goal:
  • $200 for my video of the COP-21 debrief.
  • $200 for my on-going investigation to the TETCO/Spectra failure in Salem, Westmoreland Twp. PA.
  • $200 for my on-going work on the "What Stinks in Endicott" project,
    tracing the dumping of Landfill Leachate from Seneca Meadows.

    My new video, "Who put the Stink in my Drink" got 2,000 views
    in a single week!! My most viral ever:
    (I have been researching this for 3 years, so $200 is VERY cheap!)

I have several projects in the queue:
  • Richard Wolff speaking in Ithaca
  • Cris McConkey Memorial
  • Some others which I can't talk about ... yet!

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Salem Township Explosion of TETCO (Spectra) Pipeline.


Presently, a more complete commentary exists on Facebook:

I've been digging into the 4-29-2016 Spectra/Texas Eastern Transmission (a/k/a TET, TETC, TETLLP, TE, or TETCO). failure this past week. This was one of the top 5 worst pipeline accidents US History in terms of impact radius. Here is a photo album with my results so far. Scan though all the photos in this album.

Here are the factors I think contributed to the failure and the severity of the impacts:

1) I believe the root cause will be found to be due to corrosion caused by stray DC currents caused by imbalances or errors or interference in Cathodic Protection systems of the 4 different pipes in the ROW. This is extremely tricky to get right, and is almost certainly the cause of the severe corrosion and near-failure of the Keystone-1 pipeline west of St. Louis (Julie Dermansky reported on this for DeSmogBlog).

2) It took 1 hour for the TETCO workers to close all the right valves. This contributed to a long burn.

3) There were 4 segments all interconnected. This means even after they found and closed the right valves, all of that gas upstream and downstream to the nearest block valves had to drain out and burn. I haven't seen official reports about duration, but I'm guessing the fire burned for at least 4 hours, till noon or so. This really made the impacts much worse than if they could have isolated the fault in a *single* segment.

4) Part of the problem is the loss of records about the pipeline. TETCO went to FERC in 2013 to abandon some or all of 750(!!) facilities which they had lost track of, as they lost all of their records after a flood in 2001 (Tropical Storm Allison).

5) The official PHMSA report reveals that one of the four parallel and interconnected lines in the same ROW was taken out of service a week before the accident, was blown down and under maintenance. What are the odds that a maintenance worker accidentally closed an incorrect valve on a pipeline which is already charged to 98.9% of MAOP, because he lacked proper records? What happens to the pressure in that segment? Hmmm....

6) The pipeline may have been carrying > 12% ethane, which is more explosive, due to a special waiver issued by PHMSA.

7) The MAOP of the pipeline should have been lowered in 2006 due to a change in Class caused by an increase in the number of human-occupied structures within 220 yards (660'ft) of the centerline. PHMSA languished on the request (allowing them to operate at unsafe pressures) until 2009, when they granted a waiver!!

8) When the pipeline ruptured, it was operating at 98.9% of MAOP. This is what happened when San Bruno popped. The problem operating so close to MAOP is that there can be pressure fluctuations caused by physics of gas transmission (or human accidents). Suddenly, there can be a surge (like of someone closes a block valve on a pressurized segment.)

9) There appears to be some involvement of a storage well, part of the Oakford system.

I'm sure there is more but this is what I've found so far.

All images in this series are (C) 2016 Share-By CC-BY-NC - All other rights reserved