As we wait for more details of the Falcon Pipeline’s investigation to be released, a new warning letter has been issued to the Falcon’s operator, Shell Pipeline Company.
PHMSA, the federal agency tasked with ensuring the pipeline’s safety, sent the letter on July 16, 2021, but it focuses on probable violations that occurred a year ago. During an inspection in Potter Township, Pennsylvania on August 19, 2020, PHMSA inspectors observed two instances “where coated pipe was supported on skids that were not padded.” This is a violation of the Pipeline Safety Regulations, Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations.
The letter states: “Under 49 U.S.C. § 60122 and 49 CFR § 190.223, you are subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $225,134 per violation per day the violation persists, up to a maximum of $2,251,334 for a related series of violations.” However, the agency “decided not to conduct additional enforcement action or penalty assessment proceedings at this time.” PHMSA then advises Shell to correct the issue or face additional enforcement action.
This warning letter adds to previous concerns surrounding the pipeline’s coating, which arose from a 2019 letter from the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Secretary McDonnell stated the agency had credible information that the Falcon Pipeline may have been constructed with defective corrosion coating protection.
A recent E&E News article revealed new details about the whistleblowers that raised these concerns. The whistleblowers, who were pipeline inspectors, stated that they were told “not to put anything negative in their reports,” and that they were “harassed, abused, ridiculed, and humiliated then released because [they] would not follow the bad seeds that are giving the industry a very bad reputation.” The whistleblowers filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which was dismissed and is now being appealed.