White Horse Village is a large senior living complex in Delaware County. The route of the Dragonpipe (Mainer East 2 pipeline) is not far away. In fact, it is close enough that a rupture of the 20-inch pipeline, currently under construction, could envelope White Horse Village in a flammable cloud of vapor within minutes.
That means we need to know what the residents would be facing in the event of such a pipeline accident. In this blog post, I will apply the results of the “risk assessment” commissioned by Delaware County Council to the area near White Horse Village.
The image below shows the area that could be covered by a flammable cloud if a rupture of the 20-inch pipeline occurred at the location on Valley Road where it takes a sharp turn to the west. Under the right conditions, it could envelope all of White Horse Village as well as the Gradyville fire house and post office.
If a cloud like this caught fire, it would put everyone in the area at risk, including all the residents of White Horse Village.
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 White Horse Village. The exact boundaries of the cloud would shift with the shifting wind. The size of the cloud is taken directly from the risk assessment commissioned by Delaware County.
If the gas were to escape for about 10 minutes before finding an ignition source, it would be the size shown here. There is currently no realistic plan for warning residents that a leak like this is occurring. Once ignited, 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. Houses in the cloud with wooden frames would be damaged or destroyed.
After the flash fire, even if the pipeline 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. The jet fire would not reach White Horse Village, although it would destroy many buildings closer to the pipeline.
Would evacuation be possible? Suppose some type of warning were issued, letting residents know that a leak had occurred and a cloud of flammable gas was starting to surround White Horse Village. How would people be evacuated? Sunoco’s recommended evacuation plan is to walk upwind, half a mile, on foot. That’s completely impractical in this setting.
First of all, walking half a mile is not an option for many White Horse residents, and those in the nursing facility would have to be transported by staff. How could that possibly be done? Furthermore, in the scenario shown, the upwind direction would be toward the pipeline—that is, toward increasing danger.
No motor vehicles could be used, because they would be potential ignition sources. Even electric scooters would have to be left behind, for the same reason. Cell phones could not be used either, nor could elevators. If it were nighttime, residents would have to know not to turn on lights for fear of igniting the flammable cloud.
This evacuation plan is simply not credible, but it is all that Sunoco offers.
Sunoco, in responding to this criticism, has said that its responsibility is simply to inform local authorities about the pipeline and to publish the federal guidelines that apply to all hazardous pipelines. It is left to local emergency services to puzzle out what to do in a given situation.
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 retirement community or a population center). 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”.
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. Almost all of it is being shipped to Europe to make plastic. Can we afford to risk hundreds of lives for this?
Here’s what you can do. Contact your elected officials and tell them this project needs to be stopped.
Governor Wolf has emergency powers that would let him stop it immediately (https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/).
The Public Utility Commission can also stop it immediately (write to PUC secretary Rosemary Chiavetta: firstname.lastname@example.org, and mention docket number C-2018-3006116).
For White Horse Village residents, these are your elected representatives who need to hear about your concern:
- Edgmont Township Manager Catherine Ricardo: CRicardo@edgmont.org
- Delaware County Council members https://www.delcopa.gov/electedofficials/index.html
- State Representative Chris Quinn: email@example.com
- State Senator Thomas Killion: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let them hear from you!
Get your representatives to intervene with the PUC. In particular, it is important to tell your township, your county, and White Horse Village itself to intervene in one of the complaints concerning this pipeline currently before the Public Utility Commission. Intervening is a legal step that shows your support for a PUC complaint. It will allow your town, county, or community to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
A good complaint to choose for intervening would be the “Safety 7” case (officially “Flynn et al.”, docket number C-2018-3006116). That case focuses on the lack of public information and lack of realistic emergency plans in case of a leak.
Intervening isn’t difficult or expensive. Several townships and school boards have filed to intervene in the Safety 7 complaint already. Intervention doesn’t obligate your representatives to take an active role in the case (although they can), but it does add important weight to the public opposition.