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Monday, June 26, 2017

Breaking #fracking Gaz update part 2

Hi all - we just sent this out to a slew of press contacts - but please share with any personal contacts you may have, and with anyone interested in knowing whats going on with the pipeline! I am not including the attachments since they may not come through and are large, and they were posted to these lists in the past few days.  If you NEED them, please let me know and I can provide. 


June 26, 2017, for immediate release
Contact: Rachel Smolker, phone: office: (802) 482-2848, mobile: (802)735-7794. Email:
Vermont Gas violates their permit failing to bury the pipeline deep enough in New Haven, and failing to notify the Public Service Board of the problem for over a year. But the shallow burial problems may be widespread. Citizens, via attorney James Dumont, have filed a reply, demanding an evidentiary hearing, an investigation into VGS neglect and misconduct, and potential sanctions of up to $10,000 per day for 13 months.
On June 2, 2017, Vermont Gas filed a request with the Public Service Board, asking that the Board consider the fact that they violated their permit when they failed to bury the pipeline to proper depth in an area in New Haven over a year ago, to be a “nonsubstantial change” to the permit. [attachments A and B]
On Friday, attorney James Dumont filed a response [attachment c] on behalf of several Vermonters.  Dumont argues that insufficient burial depth may be chronic, not limited to the one area in New Haven, where vigilant Vermonters happened to take photographs. He also points out that VGS knew about the problem in New Haven over a year ago but failed to notify the state until now, even though they are required by permit to notify the state immediately of any deviations from their plans as permitted. Finally, Dumont’s response raises serious questions about whether VGS and the Department of Public Service had any process in place to ensure contractors were aware of and complied with the conditions of the state certificate of public good (CPG) permit. Dumont’s clients are requesting an evidentiary hearing, and also an investigation of VGS’ neglect and misconduct, including an independent survey of depth for the entire pipeline route, as well as sanctions.
Background: The state “certificate of public good” (CPG) permit required, (among many other conditions), that the pipeline be buried at least 4 feet deep where it runs inside the VELCO right of way, under high voltage transmission wires.  This depth was a condition of the permit, and of the agreement between VGS and VELCO. Other depth requirements are associated with agricultural lands, stream and road crossings and individual easement agreements. The compressed gas pipeline runs more than 27 miles in the VELCO right of way and more than 23 miles in prime agricultural soils.
The area where VGS admitted they failed to bury the pipe deep enough is a wetland area, designated as a “state significant area” in New Haven. In September 2016, as construction in the area was underway, an excavator sank deep into the mud. A curious citizen, Lawrence Shelton, visited the site and noted that the pipeline was laid out in an open trench at very shallow depth. He took photographs.
Those photos were later delivered by a coalition of Vermont organizations and residents to the Department of Public Service, as well as to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) first in October of 2016 and then again in April 2017, along with a compilation of other observations and concerns about unsafe construction.
The photos were also presented to VGS and the DPS at a public forum on the pipeline, in February 2017. Mr GC Morris, the DPS gas engineer, agreed to participate in a site visit with Mr Shelton, which occurred in March.
PHMSA indicated in early May 2017 that they had sent staff to Vermont, and taken some steps towards investigating the complaints they had received.
Mr Shelton stated: “VGS had to admit their error in New Haven, because WE forced the issue to the regulators.  But now the question is: how are we to be confident that the pipe was properly buried in places where nobody was watching? The vast majority of the pipeline route was laid down where it was not visible and most people have no knowledge of what the depth or construction requirements are anyway.”
VGS knew about the shallow depth problem well over a year ago but failed to inform the state that they were violating their permit.  Vermont Gas’ request for nonsubstantial change designation is accompanied by a letter from VELCO which states: “VGS confirmed in writing to VELCO, with a May 25, 2016 Mott McDonald engineering analysis, that the HS20+15% loading requirement for the pipe, referenced in the joint VELCO/VGS Ops and Maintenance agreement could be obtained and maintained at all locations with less than 4 foot installed burial depth”.  The May 2016 engineering analysis of the problem makes clear it was known back at that time.
Also in May of 2016, ARK Engineering published an “AC Interference Analysis and Mitigation System Design” for the project. The report refers to the required burial depth in VELCO ROW incorrectly, as 3 feet. ARK took  direction on the depth requirement from VGS.
VGS appears to have already decided to violate its permit conditions back in May of 2016 prior to constructing most of the pipeline. The CPG permit stipulates that any substantial or material deviation from the plans for the pipeline as permitted, must first be approved by the Board ahead of time. Not a year later when gas under pressure is flowing through the pipe!
Finally, the depth of cover issue raises serious questions about whether VGS, or the DPS, had any real process for ensuring that any of the conditions of the CPG – not just pipeline depth - were ever implemented.  In a separate case (referred to in the Dumont reply, item D., par 78-82 ) involving blasting damages to a property, VGS employee and Right Of Way Manager, Karen Kotecki, testified that she was “unaware of how VGS ensured compliance with details of the CPG.”  A project supervisor for a VGS contractor stated he “may have been provided a copy of the CPG but had no recollection.”
Rachel Smolker stated in summary: “This pipeline has been rushed into operation with slipshod construction, and gross mismanagement on many fronts right from the start and in spite of persistent strong public opposition. Currently there are still two pending Supreme Court appeals, yet Vermont Gas is allowed to operate the pipeline in the meantime. The more we learn, the more we are appalled and concerned for the safety of our communities and the environment. It is increasingly obvious that VGS paid little if any attention whatsoever to the state CPG permit requirements. DPS allowed that to happen.  That is why we took our concerns to the federal authorities last October, in hopes that someone would force some oversight. At least that seems to have aided in forcing VGS to admit to what happened in New Haven, but there is no reason to assume that is the only place with a problem. VGS is now crowing that their pipeline is “done”.  But we certainly are not! 
NOTES: What are the consequences and implications of too-shallow pipeline burial?
VGS, not surprisingly, claims the shallow burial is a minor issue. But burial depth is no minor issue. The CPG required Vermont Gas to build the system to higher than minimum standards with knowledge that there would likely be an expansion of the VELCO transmission system alongside the pipeline. The 4-foot depth was required as a means for protecting the pipe against damage from “load” - i.e. trucks and equipment driving over it. VGS is now claiming (and VELCO accepting) that the load bearing requirement will be met anyway irrespective of the too-shallow burial because thicker pipe was used. 
Depth of cover also impacts cathodic protection, which protects against corrosion and potential pipeline failure that can occur due to electrical interference under high voltage transmission wires. When corrosion occurs, it can happen quickly. In one case, for example, a pipeline installed 2 years earlier, had lost 95% of pipe wall thickness.
VGS is required to bury the pipe at least 4 feet deep in agricultural lands.  This is to protect farmers who are using equipment to dig/till/harvest on their land.  Equipment striking the pipeline could damage the pipe, and ultimately could lead to a leak or an explosion.  For farmers working their fields, and for people living along the pipeline route, especially those within what is referred to as the “incineration zone”, questions about the depth of burial raise serious concerns for safety. 

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