Pipeline Investigation Update
Vermont Gas’ pipeline is currently under investigation for at least nine categories of alleged safety and construction violations-- everything from missing documentation, to missing components of the infrastructure itself.
In July 2017, when the fracked gas pipeline expansion was only gassed up for three months, an investigation was ordered by Vermont’s Public Utility Commission. This came after photographs taken by a member of Protect Geprags Park were brought to the Commission’s attention-- photographs that documented the pipeline during its construction, sitting in a flooded and shallow trench that cut through a swamp in New Haven. Vermont Gas told us that this was a coincidence-- they happened to photograph only place along the route that was not buried deep enough; their own records would say otherwise.
Since then, the pipeline investigation and all that it encompases has expanded dramatically-- and the cost for the independent investigator has ballooned as we wait for the results. In the meantime, we have a few details from the intervenors-- those fighting to keep this process transparent and hold Vermont Gas accountable for their rushed and unsafe pipeline.
In June, the independent investigator from Texas brought a few of our allies on a “site visit” to a few of the locations along the pipeline that had been identified as worth investigating. Let’s take a look at how Vermont Gas celebrated “National Safety Month,” shall we? Before heading out, Our friends from Protect Geprags Park was told that, if there was a need, not walk but rather do “the bunny hop” to avoid electrical shock. They returned to tell us:
“Yesterday was a very wet day. We went along with the gas executives and their attorney, who went on the site visit in the pouring rain and traipsed through the tall wet grass and wild parsnip... an early highlight was at the first MLV (main line valve) on F5 outside of Hinesburg village where several of us smelled gas. Mr St. Hillare (Vermont Gas’ VP of Operations) informed us that it was probably just the smell of rotting hay. I'm serious. The guy in charge of the pipeline said that.”
Another intervenor told us about how measurements were never taken, or that the investigator seemed to just give up on taking them:
“At one point in the day we were supposed to be inspecting a stream crossing. We walked a way out through a narrow meadow looked, for literally less than a minute, at a trickle of a stream then turned around and walked back. I do not know what that was supposed to inspect or what [the investigator] supposedly saw. No measurements were taken or pipeline depth addressed.”
After two years, we still have little idea of what lies below the surface-- and dwindling confidence that any part of the pipeline was built properly. Unfortunately, as we continue to see a rash of deadly pipeline explosions throughout our region, it’s clear that this problem is not unique to Vermont-- we just happened to catch Vermont Gas in the act of building an unsafe monster of a pipeline.