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Thirteen injured in Williams compressor station explosion in New Jersey

June 1, 2013
Gas explosion, fire forces evacuations

A 2011 compressor station explosion in Bedford County, PA caused midnight evacuations of several dozen families. Here, volunteer firefighters work on the Columbia Gas Transmission compressor station the morning after, in Artemas, PA. Photo: Times-News archive (http://times-news.com/archive/x2039720040)

We reported yesterday that two workers were injured in the Williams compressor station explosion Thursday night, May 30th 2013, in Branchburg New Jersey. It turns out thirteen workers were injured, two seriously. It also turns out that residents sensed something off the day before the explosion and fire. Gas leaked so loudly from the pipeline that it sounded “like a jet plane about to crash,” according to one resident.

The Williams Transco compressor station and two new loops of its pipeline would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, at a time when a poll shows two-thirds of Pennsylvanians favor a moratorium. An upcoming hearing in New Jersey on June 13th, 2013 is emerging as a potential point of resistance among those in New Jersey who don’t want these hazards in their backyards, as well as those who understand the big-picture impacts of shale gas development, which harms air, water, ecological and human health, and climate.

The FERC public hearing on the Leidy Southeast pipeline, at which residents are being invited to share their thoughts, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13 at Hillsborough Middle School on Triangle Road in Hillsborough, NJ.

See yesterday’s post for background on Williams, which is cutting a swath of destruction through Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, and now New Jersey. The most recent Williams compressor station explosion and fire  sent flames high into the night sky in Brooklyn, Pennsylvania, in Susquehanna County, just weeks ago on May 14th, 2013. (That incident was misrreported by some news sources as occurring in nearby New Milford, Pennsylvania).

Dispersed Disaster

In addition, compressor station fires and explosions have recently rocked Bradford County, PA (March 20th, 2013, almost one year after the March 2012 Williams Lathrop compressor station explosion and fire in Susquehanna County, PA) and West Virginia.

Another exploding compressor station in West Virginia killed one worker and injured others on April 12th, 2013 — just six weeks ago.

Two more workers were injured in a dramatic explosion and fire at a West Virginia gas plant on May 12th, 2013. Flames shot up to 150 feet in the air from acetylene tanks, and workers at businesses a quarter mile away felt the explosion so strongly that they ran. While this facility was not a compressor station, it is worth mentioning because, according to Wikipedia:

Today acetylene is mainly manufactured by the partial combustion of methane or appears as a side product in the ethylene stream from cracking of hydrocarbons

In other words, the “cracker plants” being built with huge multi-billion dollar tax giveaways, enabling hydrocarbons from shale gas drilling to be cracked, lead to more explosions, fires, and fumes. So the terrifying explosions such as the ones in April and May in West Virginia, the ones in Clearfield, Bedford, Wyoming, and, repeatedly, Susquehanna and Bradford Counties in Pennsylvania; and this week’s explosion and fire in Branchburg, New Jersey — as well as the many deadly explosions on the distribution end — are all part of the “infrastructure of destruction” which accompanies shale gas development.

That’s the context within which Mark Spivey reports in the Bucks County Courier News on the aftermath of the New Jersey compressor station explosion and fire:

Branchburg residents, officials voicing concerns about safety following gas pipeline explosion that injured 13 workers

Stir comes amid calls to expand existing pipeline network

May 31, 2013

BRANCHBURG — After the events of Thursday night, an upcoming federal public hearing on plans to expand an existing network of natural gas pipelines running through wide swaths of Hunterdon and Somerset counties might be a little more crowded than initially expected.

A gas ignition and minor explosion that injured 13 workers, two seriously, occurring a little too close for comfort to a residential area will tend to do that.

“They have a good track record in town,” township Mayor Jim Leonard said of the Oklahoma-based Williams energy company, which oversees the massive Transco Pipeline. “But we need a zero error rate.”

At least one of the two workers hospitalized by the blast was released from the hospital on Friday, Leonard added. The explosion, described by Williams spokesman Tom Droege as a “flash fire,” occurred at a compressor facility on an access road off of Case Road in the Neshanic Station section.

“There is no damage to the compressor station, and natural gas service was not interrupted,” Droege explained Friday. “The cause is still being assessed.”

Leonard said a preliminary investigation revealed that the injured workers were venting a pipe when a torch ignited vapors that had yet to be cleared out of the area. The mayor said he spoke to representatives with the state Board of Public Utilities and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, both of which sent inspectors to the area Friday to try to determine how and why the incident occurred.

“They said that they would keep us in the loop,” Leonard said. “It is my belief that we need to redouble our efforts to make sure that safety is our first priority.”

Yet safety has been one of several concerns regarding Williams to have been voiced in several Central Jersey communities during recent years.

It was last November when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its stamp of approval for Williams to proceed with its Stanton Loop project, through which a pipeline extending seven miles through three Hunterdon County townships currently is being expanded. The approval came in spite of objections by a vocal group of residents and the New Jersey Sierra Club, which has expressed concerns about the environmental impacts the project might have on a Raritan River watershed that provides drinking water to more than 1 million people across Central Jersey.

Also of concern was that the project would encourage the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial process through which highly pressurized water and a cocktail of chemicals are injected into bedrock with the intent of extracting natural gas, petroleum or other substances from deep within the earth. A one-year moratorium on fracking in New Jersey expired earlier this year, and while state lawmakers are mulling legislation that would extend the ban or make it permanent, experts say it’s probably not feasible here anyway.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, however, it’s a different story. Virtually all of the natural gas flowing through the new Stanton Loop pipeline will be produced by fracking there and in other states.

Williams representatives have countered such concerns by noting that FERC labeled the anticipated environmental impacts of the project to be “minimal,” and well within acceptable standards. The company has suggested that construction could be good for the area, infusing an estimated $46 million into the state’s economy, offering a $5 million tax revenue boost and creating the equivalent of more than 600 years of labor for local workers.

The so-called Leidy Southeast Expansion Project is similar in scope to the Stanton Loop, both of which are tiny compared to the entire Transco Pipeline, which officially entered use a little more than 60 years ago. One of the world’s largest energy infrastructure systems, it spans more than 10,500 miles from the Gulf Coast of Texas to New York City and moves more than 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.

The FERC public hearing on the Leidy Southeast project, at which residents are being invited to share their thoughts, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13 at Hillsborough Middle School on Triangle Road in Hillsborough.

“The issue of pipelines is not just on the environmental side of things … it’s on the safety side too,” New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said Friday. “I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that these pipelines running through our communities are safe almost all the time, but it just takes one accident, one mistake, to cause a calamity, a catastrophe.”

Tittel referenced the spectacular 1994 gas explosion that killed a person, injured dozens and leveled more than half a dozen buildings at the Durham Woods apartment complex in Edison as evidence that such catastrophes do happen.

“It (Thursday’s incident) could have been a lot worse,” Tittel said. “But this is not something you ever want to see … and the first role of government should be ‘do no harm.’ So how can FERC guarantee that this pipeline expansion will not create problems or safety issues?”

Residents of Case Road said the incident definitely was too close for comfort. What’s more, their first perceptions that something was amiss came the day before the explosion.

Theresa Difilippo said she heard a loud hissing sound coming from the area of the pipeline Wednesday evening — loud enough to prompt her to call a neighbor to ask whether they heard it too. Patricia Romani, whose home is nearby, said there was no mistaking what they now assume was the noise of gas being vented out of the pipeline.

“It sounded like a jet was about to crash,” Romani said. “I’m ticked off that no one from the township said anything to us.”

Both Difilippo and Romani said they were unaware that anything had happened Thursday evening until they read about it in news reports the next day. Difilippo downplayed the prospects of future issues — bad things happen, she noted, and many of them are unavoidable — but Romani felt differently.

“I’m concerned,” she said.

When asked about neighbors expressing fears of another explosion, Droege simply said Williams is doing everything it can to make sure that doesn’t happen, labeling safety the company’s top priority.

When asked whether the incident Thursday night shook his faith in the company, Leonard said it did not.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be demanding answers, though,” the mayor added. “We are.”

Reporter Mark Spivey is to be commended for his thoroughness in reporting: Staff Writer Mark Spivey: 908-243-6607; mspivey@njpressmedia.com.

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5 Comments
  1. June 1, 2013 7:12 pm

    This kind of behavior has a term in the legal system: reckless endangerment. When people are found guilty of that, they go to prison. When non-humans such as psychopathic CEOs do this, they’re virtually untouchable, at least in part because the U.S Department of Justice would rather prosecute real criminals (ha! ha!) like John Edwards, for whom I’d still vote. Just over three years ago, eleven oil rig workers were killed in the Gulf of Mexico, when at least one CEO deliberately allowed unsafe working conditions, just to earn more money. At nearly the same time, twenty-nine coal miners dies in West Virginia, for the same reason.

    If the Department of Justice won’t do its job, we must find someone to sue them to make them do it.

  2. June 2, 2013 8:08 am

    might be an error in article;

    explosion in “new milford, pa”  should read Brooklyn, Pa….

    Vera

    ________________________________

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      June 2, 2013 12:57 pm

      Thanks, Rebecca and Vera; it is now corrected in the text of the post to minimize confusion.

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