PUC order Feb 2021

PRESS RELEASE: Feb 2, 2021

Vermont gas pipeline joins the ranks as a recklessly constructed threat to public safety. 

On Jan 29th, Vermont’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) Hearing Officer issued “Order re: Liability and Lifting of Stay of Proceedings in Case No. 18-0385”. The order, an interim ruling, holds Vermont Gas (VGS) violated its Certificate of Public Good permit by making “substantial changes” to its approved plans without seeking required permit amendment. The order states: Vermont Gas did not build the Project as approved. Specifically, Vermont Gas failed to:

(1) bury the pipeline using the burial methods approved in the 2013 Final Order and CPG;
(2)  achieve the four-foot depth-of-cover standard required at 18 locations in Clay Plains Swamp;
(3)  conform to its own specifications regarding pipeline burial on the trench bottom and installation of trench breakers;
(4)  comply with the compaction requirements for the pipeline in its construction specifications;
(5)  ensure that staffing for the Project included a licensed professional engineer that served as the responsible charge engineer for the Project. 

I find that these five failures are substantial changes from the 2013 Final Order and CPG with the potential for significant impact under the applicable criteria of Section 248.” 

Vermont Gas also failed to bury the pipeline seven feet below eight non-jurisdictional streams. I conclude that this is a material deviation from the Project standards.”

The Hearing Officer found that many of these violations have the “potential to affect public health and safety.”

Failure to staff the project with a Vermont Licensed Professional Engineer Serving as a Responsible Charge Engineer is key to the other findings which can be considered an outcome of this failure of engineering oversight. Following the September 2018 deadly pipeline explosion incident in MA., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued urgent recommendations, stating that the seal of a Professional Engineer should be required on all public utility engineering plans, as recommended by the National Society of Engineering Professionals, to reduce the likelihood of accidents such as this occurring. This was already required in the state of Vermont – but VGS built the pipeline without a Responsible Charge Engineer anyway.

An engineer witness in the Vermont Gas case testified: “The failure to follow have a licensed engineer in charge, in my view, compels the conclusion the [Project] was constructed in a manner that does not adequately protect the public.” 

Nate Palmer, a party in the case and resident of Monkton, states:  

We are very pleased with the PUC’s interim order.  It’s simple common sense that any significant construction project should engage engineering oversight. Especially construction of a potentially deadly explosive pipeline that passes through people’s yards, farms, roadways and near public buildings.  It is in fact unfathomable to imagine that some 41 miles of transmission pipeline were constructed without a licensed professional engineer.  The company claimed in prior filings that it was not required - apparently they were not even aware of the laws governing their own major gas infrastructure project.”

Lawrence Shelton, a party in the case and resident of Hinesburg states:  

What occurred in the New Haven swamp was documented with photographs (available at below link) of the pipeline lying in a shallow, water-filled trench. While it seems obvious that the trench was unacceptably shallow, it took repeated iterations and filings to get to this point where the shallow burial is clearly identified as not being an approved burial method that resulted in the pipeline buried in some places less than 3 feet deep in a swampy area where the ground is basically flooded and directly under high voltage transmission wires which can contribute to corrosion, but also will be extremely vulnerable when heavy equipment transverses over the area to service the lines as will be needed in future.”

Rachel Smolker, party in the case and resident of Hinesburg states”

We fought long and hard for this and view the recent interim order as a beacon of light, truth and integrity.  Public safety should not be a “political” matter. Now that these findings have been validated, the Commission must determine how to proceed, and what penalties will be imposed.  While VGS represents itself as a “mom and pop” VT business, it is in fact owned primarily by Enbridge and other Canadian megacorporate fossil fuel actors with billions of dollars in pocket.  A small fine and slap on the wrist would be absorbed as cost of doing business and is simply not sufficient in light of the risks Vermonters now face. This pipeline was thrown into the ground hastily, without engineer oversight as the company sought to cut corners and save money in light of monumental cost overruns and delays.  The result is a ticking time bomb.”  

NOTES:  Several other concerns raised in the case were dismissed as neither substantial nor material deviations. Those included: 1) that the company failed to comply with requirements for corrosion protection (of concern especially because of induced voltage where the pipeline is in proximity to high voltage transmission wires). 2) That contractors failed to use proper materials when backfilling trenches surrounding pipeline. 3) That they failed to bury the pipeline deeper in residential areas; and 4) that they failed to have a proper quality assurance plan in place during much of the construction. The PUC order did not find these to be substantial or material deviations.

CONTACTS: 1) Rachel Smolker (802) 482-2848, [email protected]  and 2) James Dumont Esq. Cell: 802-349-7342, Office: 802-453-7011

 

PUC Order Jan 29 2021:https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Hxv33-jaAEDFCLMp0In1epDPJvos-z7X/view?usp=sharing

NTSB November 2018 report: https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/PSR1802.pdf

Photos of the pipeline in shallow trench in New Haven: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1g5fQqmRuITwJElTLkRKaX1iL4InijJhd/view?usp=sharing