I had the privilege of being the closing speaker last night (August 28, 2018) after Jeff Marx of Quest Consultants discussed the main findings of the Citizens’ Risk Assessment, and after audience Q&A. The event was a good one, with well over 200 people in attendance.
The slides that Marx used to illustrate his main findings can be downloaded here.
And here are the remarks I shared:
Before I offer my closing remarks, a quick word about fundraising. We have raised the money we need to pay for this report, but we hope to purchase a license to use the software that went into it, and we continue to raise funds for that. This software will be useful for evaluating other sections of the Mariner pipelines, and any other pipelines in our two counties. I urge you to contribute to this project.
I would like to summarize some of what we’ve heard tonight and make some observations about what it may mean for us.
Here are a few of the key results of the study that Quest performed:
- Heightened risk exists in the vicinity of valve sites.
- Heightened risk exists near HDD entry and exit points.
- Two pipelines produce approximately double the risk of a single pipeline. Three pipelines approximately triple the risk, and so on.
- These pipelines (based on industry-wide failures of HVLs, and not considering Sunoco’s industry-worst leak record) are likely to average a leak every 2 or 3 years, statewide.
- Even the smallest possible leak in an HVL transmission pipeline can result in fatal fire or explosion.
- For the three specific locations studied in detail, the study shows exactly which homes and buildings are in harm’s way, and how serious their risks are.
- It shows that, for those in the immediate vicinity of these pipelines, death from a pipeline accident is about 10% as likely as death from a car accident, and about 150 times more likely than death from a lightning strike.
I would like to remind you that all the statistics you have heard, dry as they may seem, represent people dying. Sunoco has decided that the risk of these deaths is acceptable in the pursuit of their bottom line.
Accidents do happen, and when they involve NGLs, the consequences can be catastrophic. Let me just mention three of them.
- In Follansbee, West Virginia, a new ethane pipeline similar to the proposed Mariner East 2 (but in a rural area), ruptured in January, 2015. The material exploded and burned seven acres of trees, and the siding melted on a house 2,000 feet away. Fortunately, no one was killed. That pipe was less than two years old.
- In Brenham, Texas, an NGL storage facility leaked. An hour later, a vehicle drove into the vapor cloud and it exploded. Again, this was a rural area, but three people were killed, twenty-one others were injured, and every structure in the area was damaged or demolished.
- Because of our dense population, the result of an explosion here could be much like the one in San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco, in 2010. In that case, dozens of homes were destroyed. There were 8 fatalities and many more injuries. The eventual dollar costs of the accident approached one billion dollars. And that was on a methane, or “natural gas” pipeline, with far less explosive potential than what Sunoco is constructing here.
No other major NGL transmission pipeline in the US goes through dense suburbs like ours. So, Sunoco proposes to make us part of an experiment that has not been tried before.
Sunoco’s track record as a pipeline operator is troublesome. Its pipelines have the industry’s worst record for leaks, in terms of leaks per year per mile of pipe. The company has little experience with NGL pipelines, but the Mariner East 1 pipeline has leaked three times in a 12 month span. It appears to be just luck that none of those leaks ignited. But counting on luck is not sound public policy.
The 12-inch refined-products pipeline that Sunoco proposes to use starting this fall for NGLs, bypassing unbuilt parts of Mariner East 2, has leaked at least four times since 1987, with the most recent leak occurring in June of this year in Delaware County.
And it’s not just leaks: we recently learned that Sunoco has been obliged to dig up sections of the Mariner East 2 pipe that had bad coating and welding discrepancies. How do we know what problems continue to lurk beneath the surface? Can we count on Sunoco, cited for scores of permit violations by the Department of Environmental Protection, to identify and then fix all these problems?
Finally, this study addresses individual risk, the risk to a single person, not the so-called “societal risk”, or overall risk to local densely populated communities. Individual risk is really just the risk you take by being in one specific spot. If there are others standing next to you, of course they are also at risk, but the “individual risk” calculation does not take them into account. Individual risk calculations are the same whether the person at risk is a lone farmer in a field or one of several hundred students in a school, or a resident in an assisted living facility.
To take those population-related risks into account would require a study of societal risk, which was beyond the scope of this study–it would have required a far greater investment than the amount of money we could hope to raise in 6 months time. So, in the context of this study, all fatal accidents are counted the same, whether they involve one death or a hundred.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that in the event of a lethal accident in our area, it is likely that many people will be killed, because we spend our days close to each other. We must be clear that what we are particularly concerned with is the risk to groups of people—households, schools, businesses, churches, libraries, malls, and so on, even though the risk to groups is not quantified as part of this study.
So where does this leave us? We are still looking at a pipeline that is
- being built to carry the most explosive possible materials,
- along a route that maximizes the risk to homes and schools,
- in a rushed construction process that has featured hundreds of permit violations, sections of bad pipe, and welding anomalies,
- by an operator with the industry’s worst record for leaks.
This report shows us that we can be confident that the Mariner East system will experience accidents from time to time, some small and some large. Of course, we don’t know where they will be.
I want to leave you with this question: is the risk of an accident on Mariner East next to a neighborhood, a school, a senior living facility, or a daycare center acceptable to you?
If your answer is no, then join us now in advocating for change.
We look forward to providing you with the full report from Quest in the next several weeks. It will be freely available for downloading from Mariner East-related websites.
Thank you all again for joining us this evening.