V. Pipelines and Facilities
A Troubling Discovery: In Rural Aeas There are No Pipeline Safety Regulations
July 22, 1997 | By Arlin Wasserman
and Julie Johnson
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
V. Pipelines and Facilities By Julie Johnson and Sarah James,
Advocates For Intelligent Responsible Environment
A Troubling Discovery:
In Rural Areas There are No Pipeline Safety Regulations
I'm Julie Johnson. I am a mother, Ludington resident, Manistee teacher and member of Mason County AIRE. My home is within 1/2 mile of the Oceana to Manistee pipeline.
I would like to address two concerns:
*The inadequacy of the state's current approach to regulating and monitoring gas pipelines and pipeline safety.
*The failure of our efforts to enlist the help of state and local officials and agencies to assess the impact of the Oceana to Manistee pipeline upon the health and safety of Mason County residents.
The total number of miles of gas pipeline in Michigan is roughly 100,000 miles, according to the MPSC. There are 30 MPSC staffers charged with overseeing issues associated with the transmission of natural gas. Of these, only two are charged specifically with overseeing pipelines, including gathering lines carrying gas with dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide. We believe this to be, to say it charitably, inadequate.
There also are issues of equal importance that involve the agency's jurisdiction. If you try to follow the agency's explanation of what it oversees and what it doesn't, it makes your head spin. Let me give you just a little flavor of this:
MPSC is supposed to regulate pipelines. But the new pipeline in Mason County is not regulated at all. The reason is that it's what the agency calls a "producer pipeline." This loophole was established years ago under a Supreme Court ruling. That means the pipeline is owned by the same company that owns the natural gas well. And when both the well and pipeline have the same owner, there is no regulation by law.And this line will carry an average of 20,000 ppm H2S.
Having enjoyed the benefits of this loophole, the pipeline's owner now is turning around and petitioning the MPSC to regulate this very dangerous line. All along its 60 to 90 mile route it raises a very dangerous threat to communities and families. The pipeline goes by schools, a prison, trailer parks, a motel, and private homes, some of them within 80 feet.
We are told there are 200 miles of pipelines that carry H2S in the state right now, which means that the Mason County pipeline is now one of the major H2S-carrying pipelines in Michigan. The builders of this pipeline want to increase its length. And it is unregulated.
Jonathan King of the MPSC has told us that he believes there are gaps in the law that must be filled to secure safety. Even Mark West, the owner and builder of the Oceana to Manistee pipeline, has told us they believe Michigan regulations are lax and must be more stringent. We agree.
Thus, it is small wonder that we had trouble locating someone to answer our questions or act on our concerns. What we learned is that state officials can't act on our concerns as a matter of law.They are prevented from doing so.
At the very least, it raises serious questions about the resolve of the Public Service Commission to protect the health and safety of citizens.
Pipeline Safety Solutions
I'm Sarah James. I live on Hackert Lake, in Amber Township, less than two miles from the pipeline. I am a retired teacher, and a member of AIRE.
I am here to propose solutions to the problems we have encountered trying to ensure our safety, and that of our neighbors and our environment.
After months of writing letters and making phone calls to find information, raise concern, and prompt action of our local, state, and federal officials we came to this conclusion: No one accepts responsibility for permitting, regulating, or overseeing the Oceana to Manistee pipeline.
Concerns about gas pipelines carrying dangerous levels of H2S should not be handed from official to official, agency to agency, like hot potatoes. There should be one agency in charge; one agency to assume the leadership role in coordinating the work of the Department of Community Health, the Michigan Public Service Commission, and the Department of Environmental Quality. We propose that the DEQ be designated the lead agency with significant oversight by professionals.
The state budget should be raised to increase the number of staff responsible for overseeing pipeline safety for those lines containing dangerous levels of H2S.
The dangers posed by those pipelines do not end with safe siting and construction. They continue as long as the line is in operation.
The state should write new regulations to provide for continuing oversight of the pipelines. These regulations should provide that:
*The DEQ know and keep ongoing public records of the H2S content of gas transported in the pipeline. That information is critical to the communities adjacent to the line.
*The MPSC be directed to conduct frequent inspections of the pipeline and regular on-site monitoring of H2S levels. Pipeline oversight must not simply be looking over plans, blueprints, and reports in Cadillac or Lansing.
*The DEQ require, where feasible, that H2S be removed from the gas stream at the place of origin before it enters the pipeline and is carried through populated areas.
*Where this is not possible, and H2S is not removed from the gas going into the pipeline, then the public exposure safety standard of 0.1 ppm that we have proposed for the siting of wells and processing facilities must be met by the pipeline.
By Julie Johnson and Sarah James,