Representatives from Spectra Energy, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utility Commission and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration gathered in Crabtree on Tuesday night to provide updates on the April 29th Texas Eastern pipeline explosion in Salem Township. Approximately 70 citizens were in attendance armed with questions regarding the efforts made by Spectra and others following the incident that nearly claimed the life of 26 year-old James Baker.
Andy Drake, Vice President of of Operations for Spectra admitted that the cause of the explosion was external corrosion unlike anything they had ever seen.
“What we saw was about 10 to 15 percent a year, or about five times what conservative assessments would be based on,” Drake said. He described the method of bonding used in the 1980’s, a type of tape coating, as the likely cause for the rapid corrosion. In this statement of admission, Drake also let loose the bombshell that the company knew about the anomaly as early as 2012 but took no steps to rectify the problem.
A member of the Baker family, Carol Webb, gave powerful testimony urging the officials in attendance to make every attempt to ensure that nothing like what happened to her nephew ever happens again. “Why can’t people be the number one priority,” Webb said. “If the slightest thing is off, get people out there to fix it so that this never happens to another family.”
When asked why automatic shutoff valves have not been installed on Spectra pipelines, Drake was quick to point out that the majority of the company’s focus is on the prevention of accidents rather than response times. When pressed further on the issue of the tape coating, ultimately to blame for the corrosion on Line 27 which caused the explosion, Drake said that to dig up every 40’ section of pipe using that type of welding method would be “a huge undertaking.”
Now more than four months removed from the accident, it was encouraging to see so many community members still engaged regarding this vitally important event. The people of Salem Township are already inundated with massive pipeline buildout with more scheduled to come. There are signs of push back, however.
Save Our Salem is a new citizen-led group making strides to educate the people in their community about the dangers of oil and gas development. Also consider attending the group’s first educational event featuring Lisa Graves-Marcucci from the Environmental Integrity Project on September 28, at 6:30 at the Slickville Fire Hall.