An individual’s traumatizing experiences with natural gas

Kim from West Amwell, NJ writes to the FERC about her bad luck with natural gas and the trauma it’s caused to her family:

When I was young, my Uncle Ken Kenning, Aunt Eileen, Aunt Anna, and cousins Billy and Chrissy lived in Mercerville, NJ; their house was right next to a church. Because their driveway was fairly small, we always parked in the church parking lot when we visited.

On April 22, 1971, that church exploded in a violent gas explosion that left nothing but part of the entranceway remaining. I was only six at the time, but I still remember my mother telling me that Uncle Ken’s house had exploded and that the ceiling had fallen in on my Aunt Anna, and that she had been taken to the hospital. (See Figures 1-4 below for the Evening Times article covering the explosion.) At least five people were injured, and many homes in the area damaged, with windows being shattered miles from the site. If the explosion had happened two and a half hours later, the church would have been filled with children. In Figure 3, the lower right picture shows the view of the rubble from my cousin Chrissy’s bedroom.

Here’s one of the pictures she included:

That wasn’t her only story to share about natural gas disasters though:

This incident was very scary for me, a six year old. I didn’t understand how a building could just blow up like that, and I wondered if it would happen to our house. But I grew up and our house didn’t explode. (We didn’t have gas).

Two things happened when I was in my early twenties. First, my 80 cubic foot scuba tank became a projectile one hot summer night in my bedroom, bouncing off all the walls, smashing everything in its path. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard, and not realizing what was happening, I was convinced that an airplane was about to crash through the window. I personally learned that night how powerful gas under pressure can be.

The second thing that happened involved my Uncle Mike La Franco (my godfather), who lived in an apartment building in East Windsor, NJ. My father’s best friend, Uncle Mike was our closest and favorite, fun-loving uncle. One morning, he woke up and smelled gas. He called the appropriate number he had been given, but reached an answering machine. He waited a while and called again. Again he got the machine. He decided to get dressed and leave. He was in the bathroom when the building exploded. He managed to get outside, but he was burning, with even his hair on fire. My mother and I got the call from the hospital. He had burns that started on his head and went down his back, with more minor burns in other areas.

At one point while in the hospital, Uncle Mike asked me to drive over to his complex and try to find his car keys in his apartment. I drove over, not sure what to expect, but what I found was nothing. Not only was his apartment gone, the entire building was gone. I wandered around the grounds, and found a couple of wall decorations that had been in my uncle’s apartment, but they were melted and deformed. When I asked him if he wanted me to search further, he said no. He didn’t want anything to remind him of what had happened.

As you might guess, of course this means that her house is on one of the proposed Penn East routes:

When I got married a few years later, I told my husband that I would never want a gas stove or gas heater or gas anything, and thankfully when we moved into our current house (my childhood home), there was still no gas service on our road.

And then, in August 2014, we received a letter from PennEast, saying that our property would directly abut the pipeline route. And I knew that if this project was built, I would constantly have to live with the threat of our family being killed in a gas explosion. This fear was compounded when my cousin – the one who lived next to the church and who now lives in West Amwell, NJ – also received a letter from PennEast, saying that the line would go right through her property.

While I understand Kim’s issues with natural gas I don’t quite share the same level of fear of it that she does. But as I’ve said in earlier posts, risks are not absolutes but must be considered as a continuum. And it’s not just about likelihood of disaster but the outcome in the unlikely event that the worst does happen. I could live with natural gas in my house (in fact I have a 500 pound propane tank for home heating). But that’s not the same as a billion cubic feet of natural gas going by your house every day, and having it forced on you by eminent domain.

Read Kim’s entire submission below:

Kim’s submission to FERC

Kim’s submission to FERC Alternate site

Realtors say the pipeline will impact your land’s valuation

Betty in Stockton tells the FERC:

We have lived on this property about 41 years. We are going to be 75 this year. In June we started searching the possibility of selling because it is too difficult to do the needed work here now. As soon as the pipeline was made public for our area, realtors informed us the value of our property would go down considerably. This was our investment for our future. Without it, our lives will be very negatively impacted. Now that is on hold because people do not want to live near the pipeline. We do not either, but we would not be able to afford to move without adequate income from the property sale.

Most of the 17 acres of our property are wooded. Mostly mature hardwood trees. We have been in farmland assessment for woodlot management for many years. We followed the rules to manage the trees cut, etc. Our understanding is PennEast can come in and cut whatever they want. wherever they want. How is that right when we have worked to protect the forest and followed the rules? This property qualifies as farmland because of the trees and the mandates needed to make that possible. The trees are a valuable asset for our environment. They can not be replaced as mature trees.

From what I can tell the pipeline is running through land like this strictly because of the change in January to co-locate along the high voltage powerline easement. PennEast is just blindly following that easement and ignoring the fact that a powerline easement and a pipeline easement are two very, very different beasts. It seems terrible that people who have lived on their land for 41 years are having their lives turned upside down because PennEast can’t do their homework and keep changing their story on the pipeline details.

92 year old farmer’s concerns about his land and taxes

George in Moore Township, PA was born on his parent’s farm in 1923. And he still lives there. And PennEast would like to run a pipeline through it…

My parents purchased this farm in March 1920. I was born on this land in 1923 and continue to live on this land; I am 92. Both my parents and I have paid substantial taxes over the years in support of this land. But now my rights to use this land is being threatened by the proposed 36 inch PennEast Pipeline. Yes the stated easement is only 50 foot but who in their right mind would even consider purchasing land within 250 yards of this pipeline? The total farm is now devalued significantly!

Currently, I have experienced water runoff problems that occur during heavy rains. The proposed pipeline will funnel additional runoff water downslope and only exacerbate the problems in the future. Removal of trees and other plants that hold water along the pipeline route will only worsen the problem. Where is the information on how they will control this runoff?

Yes, we have paid taxes on this land since it was acquired and will have to continue to pay taxes into perpetuity for land that is significantly devalued due to this pipeline. Who is going to fight to have the taxes reduced? Is this a good deal for Moore Township or Northampton County? No, it is not, and in fact, it hurts the community in that they now have to plan, equip and train for possible large gas pipeline emergencies. Where do the funds come from for the training, equipment and insurance? Taxes must go up and we get no benefit. Great! Has PennEast ever provided communities along the route with information about emergency measures to deal with potential pipeline catastrophes? Or, are they to gain this information through osmosis? I am told that the proposed easement can also be used to install additional pipelines or other infrastructure or can even be sold. Is this correct? PennEast would have 24/7 access to this land and could install “pig launchers” or valves as desired or other infrastructure where the pipeline crosses the 500 KVolt power line. This could render additional land useless! In exchange for some minimal one-time payment, the pipeline company would have use of my property forever and I pay taxes on that land. Do you really think that is right?

I have read about farmers that have allowed, or been ordered, by the court to allow pipelines to pass under their land. Despite claims by the construction companies, these farmers have stated that the farmland disturbed by the construction, produce crops at a reduced yield from land not disturbed. Trenching through farmland changes the soil composition and compaction for hundreds of years and therefore impacts crop yields of tax paying farmers. Is there monetary composition for this reduction on a yearly basis since crop prices change?

You can read George’s entire submission below.

George in PA – FERC Generated PDF

George in PA – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

West Amwell Submission – Explosions even worse than I thought

West Amwell Township, NJ has submitted a lengthy document to the FERC objecting to the pipeline. It’s a very well organized and written submission that goes into great detail why this pipeline is such a bad idea for our town and for the entire region.

There are two areas they discussed especially succinctly:

Public Safety – Explosions

Penn East is proposing a 36-inch natural gas transmission line through West Amwell. This pipeline will have natural gas flowing at the rate of 1 billion cubic feet per day. The effects of an explosion with this rate of energy flow would be disastrous. A 36 inch diameter natural gas transmission line under high pressure, if exploded, could cause radiant heat to ignite secondary fires within a 1,000 foot radius.

PennEast downplays issues of pipeline safety and claims that they will incorporate the best safety practices from construction through operation.

However, in 2012 alone, natural gas transmission lines accounted for more than 80 explosions and fires according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the US Department of Transportation that inspects and regulates the nation’s pipelines. Of the 80 incidents, 38 were classified as significant, PHMSA data show. The 2012 accidents and fires reportedly caused seven injuries, and more than $44 million of damage.

Since 2001, however, natural gas pipeline explosions and other accidents have resulted in the loss of at least 45 lives and many more serious injuries, usually from burns. (FracDallas.org)

In September 2010, a natural gas pipeline explosion rocked neighborhoods of San Bruno, California, killing eight people. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the cause, and in the words of Chairman Deborah Hersman, found “troubling revelations … about a company that exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight and government agencies that placed a blind trust in operators to the detriment of public safety.” And, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer investigative report, such revelations ring true in Pennsylvania, where “hundreds of miles of high-pressure pipelines already have been installed in the shale fields with no government safety checks — no construction standards, no inspections, and no monitoring.”(Food&Water Watch, Natural gas pipeline problems from beginning to end, January 2013)

In an earlier post here I cited a woman concerned about a 400′ “kill-zone”. As it turns out there’s a lot of data on pipeline explosions (unfortunately) and it’s much worse than 400′. Some readers emailed me that the 400′ figure was understating the facts, and as you can see West Amwell Township corroborates this.

West Amwell elementary is within that 1000′ zone. As are several homes in my neighborhood.

The township continues on another safety topic that I personally have been wondering about. How smart is it to co-locate a natural gas pipeline along with high voltage electric line route?

Public Safety – Co-location with transmission lines There is also concern with the co-location of a large, high pressure gas line to overhead electrical transmission lines.

“Transmission lines are considered one of the major sources of magnetic fields. In recent years electromagnetic field (EMF) interference with buried pipelines has been of great interest in the literature. The EMF interference on pipelines located in utility corridors is a real and serious problem which can place both operator safety and pipeline integrity at risk. Installing pipelines in energy utility corridors containing high-voltage AC transmission lines subjects the pipelines to induced AC voltages. This can be caused by an imbalance in the transmission system, and by high voltages near transmission tower grounding systems resulting from lightning strikes and phase faults. When a long-term induced AC voltage exists on a pipeline, it can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening for operations personnel to touch the pipeline or appurtenances. In addition, pipe corrosion also can result from AC discharge”. (Transmission Line EMF Interference with Buried Pipeline: Essential & Cautions M. H. Shwehdi and U. M. Johar)

“The issue of electromagnetic field interference on buried pipelines has been known for over 30 years. When a pipeline runs parallel to a transmission or electric distribution line, the pipeline becomes part of the electrical circuit by electromagnetic and electrostatic coupling (Nelson, 1986). The impact of co-locating metallic pipelines usually buried in the earth directly underneath high-voltage transmission lines can cause electromagnetic interference”. (Issues Affecting Co-Location of Energy Infrastructure, Governor’s Office of Energy and Security, May 2011)

An explosion in a pipeline located near transmission lines, would again, be disastrous.

Yikes.

Read West Amwell’s complete submission below:

West Amwell Township – FERC Generated PDF

West Amwell Township – FERC Generated PDF Alternate site

Arsenic in our water

Debra and John from Stockton, NJ made a FERC submission today that included comments from a Prof. Tullis Onstott, from the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He goes into detail explaining the unique geological makeup of Hunterdon County, and how constructing a pipeline through it is a really, really bad idea for residents. He states:

My second concern, however, is far more significant. The proposed route through Hunterdon County cut right through the Triassic shales of the Passaic and Lockatong Formations. It has been long established that these formations, particularly the Lockaton argillite belt that runs through Hunterdon, are the sources of arsenic in the groundwater in this region. Several New Jersey Geological Survey reports document the high arsenic levels in the wells in Hunterdon and Mercer counties. This belt of rocks form an arsenic hot spot. The groundwater supply is known to be vulnerable in these counties, but Hunterdon county is uniquely vulnerable because the farms and rural homes all rely upon well water. They have no access to the public water utilities of their much more populated neighbors. The privately-owned wells are the source of drinking water for
the families and for their livestock. These wells tap a surficial,unconfined, fractured rock aquifer in the Lockatong, Passiac and Stockton formations. The proposed PennEast pipeline cuts right through the arsenic hot spot where it can do the most damage to the drinking water supplies of the inhabitant. The soil cover is thin, so in order to bury the 36″ diameter pipeline they have to trench or drill through the bedrock.

This excavation will aerate the rock formation and expose the arsenic-bearing pyrite to oxidation which will released the arsenic as arsenate into the groundwater. This will occur on every ridge of ever drainage divide the pipeline will cross and I am told that the proposed route crosses 87 drainage divides. These same drainage divides are the recharge zones for the groundwater used by the farmer and rural residences. This, however, is not the worst aspect of the pipeline. Once the pipeline is buried, its components and any methane that leaks from the pipeline provides
reductants that will be consumed by anaerobic bacteria. These anaerobic bacteria will reduce the oxidized iron in the environment and will reduce the arsenate to arsenite, the highly mobile and toxic arsenic species.

The pipeline will continue to do this throughout it operational lifetime and, if left in the ground, after its lifetime. In summary the construction phase will generate arsenic and the operational phase will mobilize arsenic. By running the pipeline through the arsenic hotspot of New Jersey, PennEast will create an arsenic pipeline that emanates into the drinking water supply along its route and there is precious little that PennEast can do about it as long as it cuts across the strike of the Triassic basin units from northwest to southeast.

Finally, I have been told that PennEast will be tunneling underneath the water drainages. In Hunterdon county these drainages all run along fracture line faults into the Delaware River. That means during the construction phase the drilling contaminants will enter the water shed. During the operational phase arsenic concentrations will likely increase in the water sheds as well. But since PennEast does not have to comply to any kind of wetland restrictions, I am not sure that they could be held accountable to this form of pollution. That is tragic, but as I said earlier, my principle concern is about the drinking water supply in this rural part of New Jersey, the arsenic hot zone.

So. A highly poisonous form of arsenic will be in everyone’s well water. And will be in run off going through our propreties. And the pipeline is going over lots and lots of ridges so the impact will be tremendous in Hunterdon county.

And on top of that it will be running into the Delaware during construction, a major source of drinking water for the whole area.

Please visit the link below to read the rest of Debra and John’s submission. It contains a fascinating description of their property (their very old home was insulated with Horse hair!) and a not-so-flattering depiction of PennEast representatives pressuring them to sign their rights away before they force the issue with eminent domain.

John and Debra of Stockton – FERC Generated PDF

John and Debra of Stockton – FERC Generated PDF Alternate Site

Who benefits again exactly?

Michael in Pennington has a very in-depth submission to the ferc.gov.  What he (and everyone else) is wondering about is: who will this benefit again exactly?  Not vague assurances and statistics, but actual quantifiable results?

Ill perceived benefits

As I write, the the Penn East Pipeline Company is seeking approval from FERC to place a pipeline through our community. I have attended meetings and listened to presentations by their representatives who continue to tow the party line that the pipeline will be beneficial to the community because of the savings for the cost of gas and for the creation of new jobs.

Meanwhile, there are neighborhoods in the community through which the proposed pipeline would traverse that does not even have gas service. The gas distribution company in the area- PSE&G- which is also a member of the Penn East Pipeline Company conglomerate admittedly has no plans for service upgrades to serve the residents of those communities. Additionally, there is no specificity and no commitment for a set reduction in or delivery price for gas. The savings are neither quantifiable nor do they appear to be better than the rates that will be offered to communities that will not be impacted by the pipeline. In other types of government subsidized or enabled projects there are incentives to businesses and concessions made by those businesses that provide direct, quantified benefit to the citizens. One such example would be tax credits that are given to real estate developers for providing low or middle income housing. In these models there is a precise quantifiable benefit to private corporations and also a quantifiable benefit or value to citizens. The FERC model of review and grant of eminent domain to private entities does not even come close to quantifying a benefit to citizens. This is extremely problematic and disconcerting considering there is a taking of resources from ordinary citizens and licensing them to private businesses.

I have the same trouble with the PennEast assertions that this is good for our area.  There are assertions that the pipeline will have enough capacity to service “4.7 million homes” in the area.   This is a nonsense statistic.  According to the U.S. census bureau there are only 3,186,418 households in the entire state of NJ and 4,958,427 in all of PA.  Does PennEast really expect us to believe this one pipeline is going to power the equivalent of 57% of all the households in the two states?

Of course not all households are served by natural gas, and households aren’t the only consumers.

So let’s go to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s page and see what actual energy use in PA and NJ is:

NJ Monthly natural gas usage

PA Monthly natural gas usage

These graphs show the monthly usage breakdown for each in millions of cubic feet. Unfortunately they only do states, not regions, so we can only get the entire state breakdown. For reference the PennEast pipeline will deliver one billion cubic feet a day, so divide the table’s numbers by 30 (avg days in a month) to see how they compare to PennEast’s production.

NJ’s peak usage across all categories was 1.6 billion cubic feet a day.
PA’s peak usage across all categories was 2.9 billion cubic feet a day.

For a total of 4.5 billion cubic feet a day.

This mean’s the PennEast pipeline has enough natural gas flowing through it to supply more than 20% of both states natural gas needs combined.

Now shrink those numbers down to “Eastern PA and central NJ”, as PenNEast claims they’ll be helping, and this number climbs in excess of 100% of the total natural gas usage in the region.

Do you still believe PennEast is going to be using this natural gas in just our region? Or do you suspect – as I and many people do – that PennEast is going to send this to a Liquid conversion plant for shipping overseas (where gas is much more expensive)?

Michael’s full comments are available here

Michael’s full comments – Alternate Site