PHMSA deputized Oregon PUC to investigate three-month Williams Co. methane leak

Unless somebody dies or is injured, it’s not a reportable incident, says the federal agency in charge of investigating fracked methane pipeline safety. PHMSA finally deputized a state Oregon safety organization after three months of leaks from a pipeline owned by Williams Company, also owner of Transco, the first pipeline in the Transco -> Sabal Trail -> FSC chain to the sea through Alabama and Georgia to LNG export from Florida.

Lynne Terry reported for Oregon Live 10 January 2014, Safety switch triggers natural gas leak on Sauvie Island,

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said gas spewed into the air in a controlled manner for about 70 minutes. He said Williams personnel switched the gas flow to a secondary line. The station is now operating normally.

Gas service was not interrupted during the leak and no one was injured, Droege said.

The company apologized for inconvenience to residents. Households were evacuated and the bridge was closed in response to the leak.

Three months later, Ted Sickinger reported for Oregon Live 19 March 2014, Pipeline pressure lowered on Sauvie Island to prevent emergency gas releases; regulators will investigate,

Despite three gas releases in two months, no one from the company has proactively contacted residents to address their questions, said Jenny Malone, who lives with her four kids about a half mile from the transfer station. “Not a letter. Not an email. Not a phone call.”

Moreover, the federal regulator responsible for overseeing Williams’ operations, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, has not visited the site or inspected the malfunctioning equipment. The agency considers the problems an “abnormal operating condition,” not a reportable incident involving a death or injury or the loss of more than $50,000 in product.

“We didn’t have anyone who could get out there right away to do some groundwork at the Williams facility to see what’s going on there,” said Damon Hill, a spokesman for PHMSA, which has 135 inspectors covering 2.6 million miles of pipeline.

On Wednesday, however, after repeated requests for information from The Oregonian and a call from staff of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the agency deputized the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which oversees intrastate pipeline systems, to investigate the problem.

How about PHMSA deputize local sheriffs in affected counties to investigate the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline?

-jsq

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