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PUC Bureau Of Investigation Proposes $1 Million Penalty For Multiple Violations That Led To Explosion Of Revolution Natural Gas Pipeline In Beaver County

On December 16, the PUC Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement filed a petition for approval of a settlement with ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC-- a.k.a. Energy Transfer Company-- involving the September 10, 2018 explosion of the Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County.

The Bureau is proposing a $1 million penalty for multiple violations it documents in the settlement agreement and outlines the steps ETC Northeast Pipeline must take to put the pipeline safely back in service.

The petition is subject to review and approval of the Public Utility Commission which will next meet on January 14.

The Revolution Pipeline route travels through Butler, Beaver, Allegheny and Washington counties.

Cause Of Failure

Bureau’s report found the explosion was caused by slope failure on ETC’s right-of-way precipitated by severe tropical storm rainfall. The slope failure created extensive shear forces that exceeded the tensile strength of the pipe and caused a pipeline leak or rupture that allowed the release of pressurized natural gas.

The Bureau’s Safety Division also examined the metallurgical analysis of the failed

section of the pipeline, which found no evidence of corrosion, material deficiencies, stress corrosion cracking or mechanical damage, as well as no evidence of weld defects, weld imperfections or weld discontinuities.

The Bureau said the slope failure was exacerbated by the placement of the pipeline, which, in the affected segment, was not entrenched in bedrock and resting on colluvial soil. The released natural gas was introduced to an ignition source, likely either the power lines located in the same right-of-way or another ignition source at the nearby home.

Ignition of the released natural gas destroyed a single-family residence at 752 Ivy Lane as well as a garage and multiple motor vehicles on the property. There were no fatalities or injuries.

Several acres of wooded land burned, and six transmission towers operated by the FirstEnergy Corporation carrying electrical transmission lines collapsed. The fire also destroyed a power line operated by the Duquesne Light Company.

Residents of approximately 49 homes in the area evacuated their properties and emergency responders established a buffer zone of a half mile radius from the fire.

Violations Of Law

The Bureau listed this major violations by ETC Northeast--

-- Construction Procedures Inadequate: ETC’s construction procedures were inadequate in that they failed to incorporate or consider preconstruction research, i.e. information from the January 2016 Terracon Geohazard Evaluation Report into the design and construction of the pipeline.

-- Failed to Take Steps To Protect Pipeline From Unstable Soil: ETC failed to take all practicable steps to protect each transmission line or main from washouts, floods, unstable soil, landslides or other hazards that may cause the pipeline to move or sustain abnormal loads in that the potential for landslides near the failure site was revealed in the January 2016 Terracon Geohazard Evaluation Report, slides were documented during construction along the alignment, and the pipeline was not consistently placed into competent bedrock and was only partly supported on fill soils on top of questionable colluvium.

-- Failed to Maintain Structural Integrity Of The Pipeline: ETC failed to maintain the structural integrity of the Revolution Pipeline under environmental conditions that were able to be anticipated in that the pipeline was not designed to withstand the forces of the earth movement that it was subjected to, which were known by ETC as evidenced by the January 2016 Terracon Geohazard Evaluation Report and as documented in the Company’s daily construction logs.

-- Failed To Provide Emergency Notifications: ETC failed to follow its Standard Operating Procedures applicable to the shutdown and startup of natural gas pipelines, in that ETC did not notify emergency coordinators, i.e. state police, city and county fire departments, the Federal Aviation Administration and other gas companies, within a 10-mile radius of the release site when the incident occurred. Additionally, ETC released gas on September 11, 2018 that was contained in the mainline section between Main Line Valve 4 and Main Line Valve 5 and was unable to produce records demonstrating that it performed the necessary notifications as required by its Procedures. Furthermore, ETC blew down the pipeline from the Pike Compressor Station to a valve at Freedom Kreider Road, and the section from a valve at Broadhead Road and was unable to produce records demonstrating that it performed the necessary notifications as required by its Procedures.

-- Failed To Notify Officials Of Pressure Drop: ETC failed to notify the NRC at the earliest practicable moment following discovery of the incident, but no later than one hour after the confirmed discovery, in that on the morning of the incident, pressure reading data from the ETC control room confirms a pressure drop between 04:44 AM and 04:54 AM, Eastern Time, and ETC issued the NRC notification at 06:04, Eastern Time.

ETC Northeast said in the settlement document they would have contested these findings.

Settlement Terms

The Bureau proposes a penalty of $1 million to be paid after the full PUC approves the settlement agreement.

            The Bureau also outlined a series of steps ETC Northeast must take before the pipeline can be put back into service, including--

-- Incorporate preconstruction research into its pipeline design and construction procedures;

-- Extensive monitoring and inspection before putting the pipeline back in service;

-- Immediate notice of any slope failure that affects pipeline integrity, including walking the entire route of the pipeline every seven days and after every 0.1 inch rainfall until at least 2022; and

-- Implement a quality assurance/quality control program to oversee pipeline siting and construction practices.

Click Here for a copy of the 63-page settlement package.

Related DEP Actions

On November 12, the Department of Environmental Protection issued an order to prevent ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC (ETC) from putting natural gas in unstable sections of the Revolution Pipeline located in Butler, Beaver, Allegheny and Washington counties.  Read more here.

On December 8, ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC-- a.k.a. Energy Transfer Partners-- filed an appeal of a November 11 order issued by the Department of Environmental Protection to prevent ETC from putting natural gas in unstable sections of the Revolution Pipeline located in Butler, Beaver, Allegheny and Washington counties.  [EHB Docket Case# 2020110Read more here.

On January 3, 2020, the Department of Environmental Protection announced it has issued a $30.6 million civil penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline (ETC) for violations related to the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion and fire in Beaver County.  Read more here.

Related Articles:

-- DEP Orders Energy Transfer Partners To Keep Natural Gas Out Of Unstable Sections Of Revolution Pipeline That Exploded In 2018

-- Energy Transfer Partners Files Appeal Of DEP Order To Keep Natural Gas Out Of Unstable Section Of Revolution Pipeline That Exploded In 2018

-- DEP Invites Comments On Energy Transfer Partners Erosion & Sedimentation Permits For Revolution Pipeline Slope Failure Fixes

-- DEP Issues $30.6 Million Penalty Over ETC Revolution Pipeline Explosion Violations; Lifts Permit Bar

[Posted: December 17, 2020]


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