WV polluter files bankruptcy: why should we expect better from Sabal Trail?

A shell company lasted only weeks before filing bankruptcy after polluting a West Virginia river and drinking water for 300,000 people. No assets, no insurance, as near as I can tell. Sabal Trail Transmission is a shell company owned by Spectra Energy and NextEra and managed by Spectra: what assets does it have, and what insurance has it offered in case its pipeline corrodes and leaks like Spectra has been fined for or one of its compressor stations leaks like in Pennsylvania or Maine or residents have to evacuate as Spectra’s Susan Waller said would happen in case of a “true emergency”? Who will pay for the local first responders, or property damage, or a polluted aquifer?

Nick Visser wrote for The Huffington Post 17 January 2014, Freedom Industries, Company Behind West Virginia Chemical Spill, Files For Bankruptcy,

The company behind the massive chemical spill that made tap water unsafe for more than 300,000 West Virginians has filed for bankruptcy, according to documents obtained by The Huffington Post.

According to bankruptcy filings, Freedom Industries, wholly owned by Chemstream Holdings Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday. Freedom Industries owns the storage facility responsible for leaking up to 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (a coal-cleaning chemical also known as crude MCHM) into West Virginia’s Elk River.

And Freedom Industries was only formed a few weeks ago. Steven Mufson wrote for the Washington Post (undated), One week after W. Va. toxic spill, new owner of Freedom Industries puts firm in bankruptcy,

It took just one week for Pennsylvania coal mining executive Cliff Forrest, the new owner of Freedom Industries, to discover that one of the six-decade-old storage tanks he had acquired Dec. 31 was leaking a toxic chemical into the Elk River that supplies water to about 300,000 West Virginians….

Forrest, through another firm he owns, paid roughly $20 million to acquire Freedom Industries and orchestrate its Dec. 31 merger with four tiny distribution, blending and storage firms that act as middle men between big chemical and big coal companies, according to a person close to the company but not authorized to speak for it. He added that Forrest just “had the misfortune of buying a plant just before all hell broke loose.”

Sabal Trail Transmission is a recently-formed LLC that doesn’t have Spectra’s track record of safety violations. It also doesn’t have Spectra’s assets to draw on if something goes wrong.

Back to the Wapo:

“Mostly what organizations do in these kinds of moments is duck,” says Davia Temin, a New York-based crisis manager. “They do not come forward. They do not put their CEO forward. And they do not work out of the playbook of good crisis management, probably because they don’t have anything good to say.”

Temin said such companies “go underground, though unfortunately in this case their underground is toxic.” And if they’re truly avoiding the spotlight, then “tomorrow you will no longer be Freedom Industries, it will be Liberty Industries or Apple Pie Industries.”

Sabal Trail Transmission’s proposed toxic assets will be underground, and also aboveground in five compressor stations. Sabal Trail is already a different name from Spectra Energy. What will Sabal Trail do in case of a “true emergency”?

How about if our local governments require insurance for these hazards?


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