falsified pipeline x-ray 3-19-20

For several years, there have been rumors that some welding records for the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) were falsified. It was said that X-ray images of good welds were substituted for X-rays of bad welds (or for welds that weren’t X-rayed at all), and that a whistle-blower had alerted PHMSA (the federal administration handling pipeline safety). But nothing came of it.

Now, it seems that the rumors were true and someone will be held accountable. The statement from the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General disclosing these charges is remarkable. Here it is, in its entirety.

Pennsylvania Man Charged With Falsification of a Pipeline Document

On March 10, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an information [sic] with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania charging Joshua Springer of Scottdale, Pennsylvania, with knowingly and willfully making and causing the making of a false document in connection with an interstate pipeline project. Springer was a Level II radiographic technician whose responsibilities included testing pipeline welds via x-ray and certifying their quality and integrity. Specifically, he developed the film (exposures), interpreted the test results, and signed reader sheets, which record the results and are required by PHMSA regulations.

 According to the information, in August 2017, Springer allegedly made and caused the making of a reader sheet that stated that a pipeline weld had been x-rayed and the resulting exposures were acceptable. In fact, the weld had not been properly x-rayed, and the exposures were neither interpreted correctly nor acceptable.

 DOT-OIG [Department of Transportation-Office of Inspector General] is conducting this investigation with the FBI. PHMSA provided substantial assistance.

This may well be the first shoe dropping in the FBI’s pipeline investigation, and it suggests that the FBI may be looking into more than just the questionable permitting of the project by the DEP. Charging a pipeline inspector with making a false report could well lead to a plea bargain in which the inspector agrees to talk about people higher up the chain of command.

Update at 3p.m. 3-19-20: Mike Soraghan, at EnergyWire, provides this additional information:

“And after a weld failed during a 2018 hydrotest on Energy Transfer’s Rover pipeline in West Virginia, PHMSA officials found welds were being approved by an uncertified technician. The company later reported two more weld failures and more than 30 problematic welds.

Companies in litigation with Energy Transfer in connection with a 2018 explosion on Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline outside Pittsburgh have also alleged that a bad weld may have contributed to the blast. Energy Transfer disclosed in February that the Justice Department has launched a grand jury investigation into the explosion.”

Soraghan also reports a statement by Energy Transfer’s Lisa Coleman that the problems were discovered and the welds re-inspected before the pipeline was put into operation.