GREEN As construction continues to progress on the NEXUS pipeline, safety is seemingly on everyone’s mind.
Residents have spoken at several Green City Council meetings asking for officials to hold a town hall to discuss the pipeline. Those residents got their request when the city brought in several experts to speak about pipeline safety and what residents should expect.
The town hall, held at Queen of Heaven Parish Life Center, provided information from several speakers and those in attendance had the opportunity to submit questions to be answered.
Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer said some people in the city may not have accepted the pipeline, but he asked those in attendance to put aside their differences.
"This meeting is about education," Neugebauer said. "Safety as I see it is about being educated."
The main speaker during the meeting was Executive Director of the National Pipeline Safety Trust Carl Weimer. The trust is an organization that promotes pipeline safety through education and advocacy, increased access to information and partnerships with residents, safety advocates, government and industry resulting in safer communities and a healthier environment.
Weimer has served as a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association’s External Advisory Panel and the governor appointed Washington Citizen Committee on Pipeline Safety. His degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Education comes from the University of Michigan, as well he has a degree in Industrial Electronics Technology from Peninsula College.
Weimer spoke on the Bellingham pipeline tragedy, which occurred in 1999. The pipeline burst and gas leaked into a stream. The gas remained in the stream for an hour before it ignited and three children died. He said several things went wrong including a backhoe striking the pipe and a valve being installed wrong.
He said now 20 years later the Pipeline Safety Trust wants to continue to push for safety. One of the goals of the trust is to increase pipeline inspections.
"Before 50 to 60 years went by with no inspections," Weimer said. "We have had a lot of success with changes."
Weimer said natural gas lines are either gathering lines, transmission lines or distribution lines. He said there are 2.7 million miles of pipeline that run across the country. There are federal regulations that must be followed by pipeline companies and he said NEXUS is doing more than the federal requirements. He said NEXUS will have all valves being automatic, in-line testing will be done and the company plans to take weekly ground and aerial photos of the pipeline area.
When it comes to risk, Weimer said the public focuses on consequences instead of the probability. He admits the consequences can be tragic, but a lot has changed as the many of the problems with pipelines have been with those constructed in the 1950s.
Overall, Weimer said the severity of pipeline deaths continues to drop and there have been very few incidents in Ohio.
According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), there were 25 serious pipeline incidents in 2017 with eight deaths and 33 injuries across the United States. Serious incidents are defined as those that include a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization.
Weimer said it is important for people to be aware of where pipelines are and for homeowners to call officials before digging on their property. He encouraged those living near the pipeline to have an evacuation plan in case of an emergency.
He said if something goes wrong with a pipeline it won’t explode instantly and those nearby would hear a roaring sound and then would start to feel heat as gas rises from the pipeline and catches fire.
"It’s not like dynamite going off," Weimer said.
He said those nearby would have time to respond if something were to happen.
Karen Gentile, community liaison for the Eastern Region Office of PHMSA, said PHMSA is constantly reviewing pipeline operator’s procedures, records and documents. She said if an operator is in violation, criminal charges can be pressed.
Gentile said PHMSA does not approve pipelines as the focus is strictly on safety. She said the public is the eyes and ears and needs to be able to report problems if they see them.
Christopher Domonkos, who works for the Ohio Public Utilities Commission as a gas pipeline safety compliance investigator, said experts are out there once per week inspecting and making sure regulations are being followed. He said 100 percent of the welds are being inspected and everything is being documented.
Domonkos and Gentile said pipeline companies have emergency numbers that people can contact if they see anything out of the ordinary.
During the town hall, more than 50 questions were submitted and answered by the mayor and the three experts. All those questions and answers along with a video of the event have been posted on the city’s website.
Neugebauer said the city will be developing an evacuation plan in the next few months and will be working on the best way to notify residents. He said the city will work with neighboring communities when it comes to developing an evacuation plan.
"This event was very helpful and shows the city’s commitment to protect its citizens," Councilman Chris Humphrey said.
Councilman Rocco Yeargin agreed with Humphrey that the event was important.
"Fear is often driven a lot of times by the lack of information," Yeargin said.