Tim Boyce, Director of Emergency Services for Delaware County, says first responders will not be able to deal with a major leak in the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). That’s not their fault: If the pipeline leaks, there is no possible way to keep people safe.
In Boyce’s job with the county, he is responsible for making sure plans are in place for any conceivable emergency. He tries to make sure, whatever happens, that we all survive. But Boyce is now saying that he can’t assure us of survival if the Mariner East pipeline leaks.
Boyce, in his testimony submitted to the PUC in connection with the Safety 7 case, makes it clear that a major leak in Delaware County would probably result in injuries and deaths, in spite of the best efforts of the various emergency services.
His testimony, which is available here, is full of important information about the dangers from the Mariner East project. It is well worth reading in full. Here are a few of many disturbing facts that Boyce’s testimony confirms. (In Boyce’s testimony, “HVL” means “highly volatile liquid”—the compressed ethane, propane, and butane, also known as “NGLs”, carried by the Mariner East system.)
Q: Based on your training, education and experience, can you say that is there any emergency response you are aware of that could possibly evacuate a densely populated area or facility in Delaware County in time to save them from a delayed HVL ignition scenario?
A: No. The only possible way to prevent injuries and death is to have people well outside of the danger zone before the event. First responders simply cannot effect rapid evacuation of large urban and suburban areas. And successful self-evacuation simply isn’t going to happen in the case of a large unignited vapor cloud. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone was exposed to these materials at a level that could asphyxiate them, or [at] a level that could explode [if it found] an ignition source, that emergency responders could take an affirmative action to prevent.
With respect to evacuation of a senior living facility or hospital: such an evacuation, even under the best conditions, is likely to result in fatalities and injuries, even without the hazard of a pipeline accident. These facilities are simply not designed for rapid evacuation.
Q: What are your specific concerns about the delayed ignition of an HVL cloud that comes from a Mariner East pipeline leak?
A: That is the worst-case scenario. In the delayed ignition scenario, the public in harm’s way is its own “first responder.” The only option for them is on-foot, self-evacuation, in the correct direction, assuming they are able to do so. I am confident that a large release of HVLs in Delaware County will find an ignition source, so any such self-evacuation must be rapid to have any hope of success.
Q: How will emergency responders even know if any event involves HVLs?
A: You might not. And if you do not know it’s a hazardous materials release then you may never institute proper response protocols. Also, mutual aid companies [i.e. volunteer fire companies and EMS units] may have no experience whatsoever on the specific plan, nor access to it in real time.
Q: Do you know about the pump station explosion event in East Goshen Township, about the release of gasoline from a valve site in Middletown, and about calls to Delaware County Emergency Services to report odors near Mariner East?
Q: To the best of your knowledge, did any member of the public in any of those cases, self-evacuate?
A: No, I am not aware of any that did.
Q: Why not?
A: I believe that most members of the public don’t see on-foot self-evacuation as something they can realistically accomplish, especially at night or during inclement weather. I believe people who are capable of doing so will run away from a fire. But it is virtually impossible for the public to accurately assess the size, shape, and extreme hazard associated with an unignited combustible vapor cloud.
Q: Do you see the instructions to the public are to “leave the area immediately on foot” if they “suspect a leak.” Do you think this is a plausible plan for school children, elderly people, or those with physical or cognitive disabilities?
A: Not at all.
Q: Is it a plausible plan for HVL accidents that occur at night or during inclement weather?
A: No, I don’t think it’s a realistic instruction for anyone, at any time.
I can’t say that any of Boyce’s testimony is a total surprise. Many of us have made similar statements about Mariner East for years. But this is the first time that a high-ranking official with responsibility for public safety has confirmed them, in sworn testimony.
Boyce makes it very clear: no emergency procedure can be devised (least of all the half-mile-on-foot one that Sunoco promotes) that can safely evacuate our populated area in the event of a rupture or major leak.
There is simply no way to make the Dragonpipe safe.