[11pm: see update at bottom of this post re: second leak]
This afternoon (February 4), there was a butane leak in Marcus Hook. My understanding is that the leak was from the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline). The leak occurred near Route 13 (10th Street), between Blueball Avenue and downtown Marcus Hook.
The Borough of Marcus Hook posted the following message on its Facebook page:
“Marcus Hook Borough was notified of a butane leak that occurred in the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex this afternoon. Marcus Hook Police Department responded and have temporarily closed Post Road/10th Street between Blueball Avenue and the Sungate Diner as a precaution. The leak was contained and there are no additional safety measures that are needed at this time.”
I am not sure what it means to “contain” leaking gas. I assume it was allowed to dissipate, which is only possible if the leak is small. If it had been large, a flammable cloud would have formed and a mass evacuation would have been required. Most of the population of Marcus Hook is within the blast radius in case of a pipeline rupture, based on the recent risk assessment commissioned by Delaware County Council.
In this case, downtown Marcus Hook was downwind of the leak, and only about 1500 feet away. The Marcus Hook Elementary School was also downwind and less than 2000 feet away. According to the risk assessment, fatalities can occur more than 6000 feet downwind, so there was the potential for a real disaster here. Marcus Hook dodged a bullet.
Were any of those in harm’s way informed of the leak? Did the school even know? Did the students shelter in place or try to evacuate? The road in the immediate vicinity of the leak was closed by the police, and that was obviously a wise choice. But were Amtrak and Conrail (whose trains run nearby) notified?
I hope we will be learning the answers to these questions in the coming days. This incident was a test case for emergency preparedness in Marcus Hook. We need to know if the response was adequate.
Old-timers in Marcus Hook may have a sense of déjà vu. In January of 1978, there was a butane leak that caught fire. It destroyed five homes, damaged many more, and 50 families had to be evacuated. Fortunately, no one died. If it had happened at night, when residents were sleeping, there would almost certainly have been casualties. Unless there are good protective measures in place, that type of incident—or much worse—could easily happen again.
Update at 11:00 pm: It’s leaking again!
The following was posted on the Marcus Hook Borough Facebook page around 10:30 pm:
“Marcus Hook Borough was notified of a second leak that occurred in the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex this evening. Marcus Hook Police Department responded and have temporarily closed Post Road/10th Street between Blueball Avenue and Market Street as a precaution. The leak was contained and there are no additional safety measures that are needed at this time.”
Maybe intolerable but we’re told acceptable none the less. Marcus Hook is the canary in the mine shaft.