Though representatives of Williams/Transco have claimed at public meetings that they have operated the pipelines in Franklin Township safely for decades, they failed to mention that a Transco pipeline exploded here in November 1950 (before Williams owned Transco) and this 50-foot section of pipe burst into flames as it blasted skyward. Reportedly, there were four other accidents on that line after construction was completed soon before the explosion in Franklin. Though requirements were different then, and the firefighters searched for the shutoff valve for over an hour in a very windy and rainy storm, it is concerning that a fireman who lived near the explosion noted that the woods nearby would have caught on fire if it wasn’t raining so hard. From this 12/1/1950 report in The Record newspaper from Middlebush NJ, pipeline officials repeatedly asserted that all safety precautions are always taken and that the danger of any explosion was almost nil. They were wrong then, and they continue to mislead the public about the safety of fossil fuel infrastructure.
During an NJTV News (4/25/17) interview, Chris Stockton, the Spokesman for Williams Companies, stated, “I can say that we’ve operated compressor facilities for decades. Compressor facilities are safe. We have a long history of operating facilities safely, and I think it’s also important that people distinguish the compressor facilities that we operate are what’s called interstate transmission compressor facilities. They’re regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and that not all compressor facilities are the same. And there may be other compressor facilities that don’t have the same high standards that we are held to.”
Though Mr. Stockton asserts that Williams has operated compressor stations safely over the years, there have been accidents at the facilities of this company, not all of which were at compressor stations, and there have been explosions and fires on the Williams/Transco pipelines. Though spokespeople for the Company are quick to point out that certain accidents were not at compressor stations, the continuance of Williams/Transco’s failure to have/follow procedures as well as monitor facilities and pipelines to ensure safety is troubling.
Mr. Stockton noted that FERC regulates the facilities, but this is only part of the truth. FERC has oversight in ensuring that pipelines and aboveground facilities are safely constructed and installed. Once the natural gas is flowing in the new system, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) takes over the responsibility for oversight as the safety regulator.
New Jersey is in the Eastern Region Office of PHMSA where inspectors are responsible for interstate pipeline facilities in 15 states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia & West Virginia. The Eastern Region Office lists 24 employees and an Acting Director on PHMSA’s 3/20/17 Office of Pipeline Safety Organizational Chart to cover all 15 states.
Williams/Transco spokespeople rely on statistics from PHMSA when they note that their overall safety record is very good. However, the accidents that are reportable to PHMSA are only for any of the following events:
1. An event that involves the release of gas from a pipeline, or of liquefied natural gas, or gas from an LNG facility, and that results in one or more of the following consequences:
- A death, or personal injury necessitating in-patient hospitalization;
- Estimated property damage of $50,000 or more, including loss to the operator and others, or both, but excluding cost of gas lost;
- Unintentional estimated gas loss of three million cubic feet or more;
2. An event that results in an emergency shutdown of an LNG facility. Activation of an emergency shutdown system for reasons other than an actual emergency does not constitute an emergency.
3. An event that is significant in the judgment of the operator, even though it did not meet criteria of paragraphs (1) or (2) of this definition.
The attached list of some Williams/Transco’s accidents should not be considered as complete since not all accidents need to be reported to PHMSA and there is no easily accessible source for other “non-reportable” incidents. This list of Williams/Transco incidents includes 20 from their pipelines/valves, 5 at their compressor stations, 3 at their natural gas processing facilities, 1 at a gas transfer station, 1 for gas drilling, and 1 at a chemical facility which is now being sold by Williams.
In addition to the attached list of Williams/Transco’s accidents, in December 2013, the Pipeline Safety Trust analyzed safety and compliance records of companies regulated by PHMSA and found that, from 2006-2011, federal agencies had launched more enforcement actions against Williams (21) than all but three other companies, and only one other company had a higher total of proposed penalties than the $1.6 million against Williams. Then, in May 2015, the US Chemical Safety Board expanded its investigation of safety practices at Williams Companies after the incidents in Washington, Wyoming & Louisiana. A lead investigator said, “With strong corporate oversight of process safety, it would be very unlikely to have three incidents like this in a twelve-month period.”
It only takes one mistake or oversight to cause catastrophic damage from an explosion, fire or other accident at a compressor station or along natural gas pipelines. There has been no report about the anticipated long-term impact on the Compressor Station facility from repeated blasting at Trap Rock Quarry where mining is proposed to continue until 2045. Just because Williams has many compressor stations without many incidents that are “reportable” to PHMSA does not mean that those living near the proposed Compressor Station 206 site should feel secure that their safety is guaranteed if this is constructed and operated. Procedures are not always followed. Incidents are not always reported to PHMSA. This agency responsible for being the “safety regulator” is understaffed and responsible for pipelines and facilities in 15 states. ACCIDENTS DO HAPPEN.
Attachment: Williams-Transco Safety Record – some incidents
With continued concern,
Franklin Township Task Force about Compressor Station 206 & NESE
Barbara Cuthbert, Kirk Frost, Carol Kuehn, Bernadette Maher & Linda Powell