Despite the free nationwide Call 811 program, 69 (12%) of the 574 total pipeline incidents in 2020 were from excavation damage. Intentional damage is a subcategory of the “Other Outside Force” category, and there were two such incidents, or 0.3% of the total incidents.
Of course, even one intentional incident is outrageous, but a closer look at the narrative descriptions from these incidents questions whether they really belong in that category at all. The first of the two occurred on January 4, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan.
On January 4, 2020, DTE Gas dispatch received a call from 911 at 19:33 of an explosion at 14404 & 14406 Evergreen Street in Detroit, Michigan. This is a residence that is considered a 2-family flat (one structure with two residences). DTE gas first responders arrived on-site at 19:55 to investigate and terminate gas service. There were 6 individuals taking to the hospital, one with burns and 5 with smoke inhalation. Working with Detroit fire & arson, DTE Gas’s internal investigation team and the Michigan Public Service Commission, it was determined that the cause of this incident was due to an AK 47 gun that was shot in the house which penetrated the service line just below the meter & regulator assembly. The case has been turned over to Detroit police for further investigation.
Obviously, there is nothing to condone here, but it is extremely unlikely that the intended purpose of discharging a firearm inside a home was to damage the gas service line.
The second incident occurred on December 22, 2020 in Hempstead, Texas.
On December 22, 2020 we received a leak call by a customer. We found a customer had started inclosing his front porch. We detected gas we pulled the electric meter and told the customer he could stay there and must leave the door open to vent any gas. We called the 811 number to get a locate for 1337 5th. We had a crew there waiting on the locate from the telephone company. We could not get to the locate wire because of concrete being poured around the riser. We tried to dig outside the concrete put could not because of the excessive tree roots. We went out to the road and dug behind the curb, inline with the meter could not find the pipe to squeeze off. Went south a few feet found the 1″ plastic pipe we squeezed it off and caped and check for leaks. We went to go on the porch but the customer had left and locked the door so we were not able to retrieve the meter or verify the gas was off. We were called on December 24, 2020 stating the house blew up. because the explosion blew away the concrete fence down so we were able to dig next to the concrete and squeeze off the service line. It stopped the gas flow. I went to call the RRC to inform them of the accident.
This situation does not seem intentional, either, leaving zero intentional incidents for the year compared with 69 from excavation. Given the inherent danger of pipelines, it might be ambitious to get the excavation accidents down to zero, but many of them could be avoided by providing comprehensive and detailed pipeline location data to the public. The argument that this information should be withheld from the public under the auspices of national security hold no water, especially when power plants, refineries, compressor stations, processing plants, and well pads are impossible to hide.
In fact, pipelines are required to be marked with surface signs at road and railroad crossings, plus additional locations along the route to “reduce the possibility of damage or interference.” Of course, not all of the pipelines in service are marked with the placards, or excavation-caused incidents wouldn’t be a problem.
Additionally, printed maps of these pipelines become publicly available through a variety of required documents, such as this map that Energy Transfer submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Rover Pipeline, for example. FracTracker has digitized printed maps in public documents such as these, but due to issues of scale, they are inherently less accurate than the original documents. As a result, when we talk about potential impacts to people and natural areas along the way, this process introduces unnecessary uncertainty into the discussion, and could keep stakeholders from being aware of the impact that such project may have on them moving forward.
As we’ve seen, the only thing accomplished by PHMSA’s “security policy” of obfuscating public pipeline data is keeping the public in the dark. A cynical person might argue that this process is intentional, allowing the route to pass through the public comment period without community members being able to raise informed objections to the project. It’s time to join the digital age and provide the public with accurate geospatial pipeline data.