No doubt every parent of an East Goshen Elementary student has heard about the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) by now. It is hard to ignore, with all the huge pipes lying in the open along Boot Road.
But how many parents understand the risk to their children from this project if there were to be a serious accident? Are they thinking that the distance of the school from the pipeline (less than 2000 feet) is sufficient to keep it safe? Do they understand that in the event of a total pipeline rupture (admittedly unlikely, but possible) the school could be surrounded by a lethal, flammable cloud?
The recent Mariner East risk assessment commissioned by Delaware County Council showed that, if there were to be a total rupture, the cloud could extend well over a mile.
The image below shows the the area that could be covered by a cloud of flammable gas if if a rupture occurred near the New Kent Apartments, at the corner of Boot Road and Route 352. (A smaller leak or the rupture of one of the smaller pipelines would cover less area, but it could reach the school.) If a cloud like this caught fire, it would put all the students, teachers, and staff at risk.
The worst-case scenario. The cloud shown here is a worst-case event: a total rupture of the 20-inch pipeline on a relatively calm day with a gentle wind blowing toward the school. The exact boundaries of the cloud would shift with the shifting wind. The size of the cloud is taken directly from the risk assessment. If the gas were to escape for about 10 minutes before finding an ignition source, the entire area of the cloud would burn in a few seconds in what is called a “flash fire”. Anyone outdoors at the time would be killed by the fire, and many of those indoors would be killed by the force of the explosion.
After the flash fire, even if the operator shut the valves to isolate the damaged stretch, the gas would continue to exit the pipeline until it had all emptied, a process that would take many hours. As it left the pipeline, the heat would be so intense that the gas would catch fire immediately. The resulting fire (called a “jet fire”) would be like an enormous blowtorch. While smaller than the flash fire, it would be much hotter; and for many hours, it would be too intense to approach. The only way to extinguish a jet fire is to let it burn itself out. In the case of a rupture at the location shown, it is likely that large parts of the New Kent Apartment complex would be destroyed.
Could this really happen? I know some readers will be skeptical about the possibility of this type of accident. It is certainly unlikely, but not impossible. There have been comparable accidents before (although fortunately none were near a school or a population center). The size of the cloud shown above (and the consequences of igniting it) is based on information from the risk assessment that Delaware County Council recently commissioned. You can read about the details of the process that went into the creation of the image in my blog post about “How I model a local pipeline accident”.
It’s not just East Goshen Elementary. I chose East Goshen Elementary as an example, in part because the flammable cloud from the rupture shown would envelope the Bellingham Retirement Center and the East Goshen Township Building, among many other public buildings and residential areas. The risk to vulnerable populations is enormous.
But there are many other schools in the West Chester Area School District that are threatened. Here are some of the schools that could be within the flammable gas cloud resulting from a rupture of the 20-inch pipeline:
- Exton Elementary (1800 feet from the pipeline)
- Penn Wood Elementary (3280 feet)
- Fugett Middle School and East High School (4600 feet)
The West Chester district has more schools at risk than its neighboring districts, and perhaps more than any other district in Pennsylvania.
This is not like other pipelines. Perhaps someone has said to you, “We have lots of natural gas pipelines around here. What’s one more?” Let’s be clear. First of all, this is not a natural gas pipeline. It will carry “natural gas liquids” which are actually highly-compressed flammable gases that are byproducts of fracking. The only connection they have with natural gas is that they emerge from wells that also produce natural gas. They are far more dangerous than natural gas, because they are much more concentrated and because they are heavier than air and form a flammable cloud along the ground. The details are in my blog post called “Yes, this pipeline is much more dangerous. Here’s exactly why.” I encourage you to read it, and give the link to your skeptical friends.
As a final insult, almost none of this dangerous material is for US consumption. It is being shipped to Europe to make plastic. Can we afford to risk our children’s lives for this?
Contact your district officials and tell them this project needs to be stopped. Governor Wolf has emergency powers that would let him stop it immediately. The Public Utility Commission can also stop it. Let them hear from you and from your school board!
Get your representatives to intervene with the PUC. In particular, it is important to get your school board your and your township to intervene in one of the complaints concerning this pipeline currently before the Public Utility Commission. Intervening isn’t difficult or expensive. Rose Tree-Media School District, Downingtown School District, and Twin Valley School District have all filed to intervene already. Intervention doesn’t obligate your district or township to take an active role in the case (although they can), but it does add important weight to the public opposition.
Here’s what you can do right now: the West Chester Area school board is meeting on Monday, January 28 at 7pm. The meetings are held in the Spellman Education Center, 782 Springdale Dr. Exton, PA. Please attend the meeting and let the board know that it needs to become involved as an intervenor with the PUC. If you can’t be there in person, call or send an email!