Do­min­ion pipe­line safety dis­cussed

Twin 36-inch pipes stretch across Calvert, Charles coun­ties

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com

Do­min­ion Trans­mis­sion spon­sored a pipe­line safety work­shop Oct. 6 in Solomons for its 48 miles of nat­u­ral gas pipe­line that me­an­ders across Calvert and Charles coun­ties and into Vir­ginia to con­nect with the na­tional grid.

While the in­for­ma­tion ses­sion was open to any­one, it was geared to­ward ex­ca­va­tion con­trac­tors and first re­spon­ders to get them think­ing and work­ing to­gether with the pipe­line op­er­a­tor to be able to tackle ac­ci­den­tal breaks, leaks and ex­plo­sions in the twin 36-inch pipes — as well as other, smaller dis­tri­bu­tion lines. Twenty peo­ple, in­clud­ing two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Do­min­ion, at­tended the ses­sion at the Hol­i­day Inn Solomons Con­fer­ence Cen­ter and Ma­rina.

“You’ve got to be able to work on the fly. You’ve go to work to­gether,” said Brian Hedge­cock, a

pre­sen­ter with Par­a­digm Li­ai­son Ser­vices, the com­pany hired by oil and gas com­pa­nies to host in­for­ma­tion work­shops.

“In a small, ru­ral area, with­out a lot of re­sources, you need to get to­gether and work out what needs to be done,” Hedge­cock said, speak­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence as a Kansas state trooper who han­dles a bomb sniff­ing dog.

Along with the large gas trans­mis­sion lines, there are also net­works of smaller dis­tri­bu­tion lines in the area, as well as other buried util­i­ties, that re­quire the need for con­trac­tors to call 811, which is “Miss Util­ity” in Mary­land — but is used across the na­tion un­der other names.

“It’s in ev­ery state in the United States of Amer­ica,” Hedge­cock said. “If you dig in Mother Earth, you’ve got to call 811. It’s state law.”

Hedge­cock ex­plained that con­trac­tors or home­own­ers are re­quired to call two busi­ness days be­fore any dig­ging so com­pany of­fi­cials can in­spect to make sure there are no pipe­lines or other util­i­ties that could be dam­aged by the ex­ca­va­tion.

While smaller gas lines are dan­ger­ous if they’re pierced, a prob­lem with the two large gas trans­mis­sion lines could re­sult in an im­me­di­ate im­pact area nearly 800 feet from the break and an “evac­u­a­tion ra­dius-ra­di­ant heat” zone of 2,600 feet, or a half mile, ac­cord­ing to the Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion at the ses­sion.

Tom Is­rael, Do­min­ion’s eastern area com­pli­ance co­or­di­na­tor, said 27 miles of the large trans­mis­sion line in South­ern Mary­land is in “high con­se­quence ar­eas,” which for gas pipe­lines are ar­eas that have pop­u­la­tion within the im­pact zone. Fed­eral reg­u­la­tions re­quire ex­tra ef­fort and anal­y­sis to “en­sure the in­tegrity of the pipe­lines” in those ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion book­let handed out at the ses­sion.

Do­min­ion’s Claude Theis, the pipe­line su­per­vi­sor for South­ern Mary­land, said the trans­mis­sion lines are au­to­mated in such a way that a drop in the 1,100 pounds-per­square-inch pres­sure from a leak or break would flag op­er­a­tors to pin­point the leak and re­motely close large valves — block gates — be­fore and af­ter the break to stop the flow of gas. There are seven block gates in the two lines in South­ern Mary­land about 8 miles apart.

“We’re very au­to­mated,” Theis said. “When we see a drop in pres­sure, it’s a red flag all over the place.”

A lo­cal fire of­fi­cial asked how long it would take for the gas to bleed down. Nei­ther Is­rael nor Theis knew ex­actly, but said they’d get that in­for­ma­tion to the emer­gency per­son­nel.

“It takes a long time. That’s a lot of gas,” Is­rael said about the vol­ume of gas in the pipe be­tween the block­ing gates. Nat­u­ral gas is lighter than air so even as the pres­sure di­min­ishes, it will still burn into the air or dis­si­pate if it hasn’t been ig­nited, he said.

A later video clip in the pre­sen­ta­tion con­cern­ing a nat­u­ral gas in­ci­dent ad­vised fire crews to “let it burn,” be­cause nat­u­ral gas is col­or­less and odor­less — the main trans­mis­sion lines usu­ally don’t have the “rot­ten egg smell” added like in dis­tri­bu­tion lines — and with­out the flame, it be­comes an in­vis­i­ble hazard.

Hedge­cock said one of the most im­por­tant things the oil and gas com­pa­nies can do is cre­ate re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal first re­spon­ders to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion and even train them so that, if an emer­gency arises, ev­ery­one is on the same page.

“I think that’s one of the things the oil and gas com­pa­nies do that’s the most im­por­tant,” he said.

Joe O’Neill of Hugh­esville, the safety of­fi­cer at the Bene­dict Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment and Res­cue Squad, said he at­tended one the safety ses­sions in 2014 in Wal­dorf and shares what he’s learned with his fel­low fire­fight­ers back at the sta­tion.

“It’s good to know these things and to be think­ing about them,” the 45-year vol­un­teer fire vet­eran said. “When I went back [the last time], I did an over­view for the troops.

“To see the size of these pipes is amaz­ing,” he added.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Brian Hedge­cock of Par­a­digm Li­ai­son Ser­vices talks about emer­gency re­sponse to nat­u­ral gas pipe­line in­ci­dents Oct. 6 in Solomons. The work­shop was spon­sored by Do­min­ion Trans­mis­sion Inc.

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