Pipeline regulators propose broader public access

The California Public Utilities Commission on Monday proposed opening up public access to most records under the agency’s purview, a dramatic shift that would allow Californians to view documents detailing the safety records of natural-gas pipelines running under their neighborhoods.

The move comes 18 months after the explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, and four months after a Chronicle investigation revealed that the vast majority of documents at the commission are barred from public access, including investigation reports on natural-gas pipeline accidents and safety audits of utilities such as PG&E.

The practice of shielding documents from public view spawned criticism by victims of the explosion and others, and prompted Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to write a bill requiring such disclosure.

On Monday, Yee called the utilities commission’s proposal a “good first step.”

Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the proposed change would improve public access to records. “The public should have the widest possible access to information we possess,” she said.

In a written statement, the commission added that its public access regulations are “outdated and cumbersome, and often delay rather than facilitate access to records requested.”

A 60-page draft resolution, which the five members of the utilities commission will vote on in May, would change the agency’s rules to make documents publicly available unless a utility can show why the records should be hidden from view.

Currently, regulations require a vote of the commission before any unreleased paperwork may be made public – a vote that comes after the panel consults with utilities.

The proposal calls for automatically disclosing the outcomes of safety-related investigations and creating an online index of the commission’s available records and an online “safety portal” that houses all safety-related records.

California law now exempts the utilities commission from the state’s public records law, a contrast to other states, where such documents are routinely available.

Yee said the commission’s announcement is a good starting place but that his proposal, SB1000, should still move forward.

That legislation would repeal a 1951 state law exempting the agency from the state’s Public Records Act unless the commissioners vote to allow public access to specific documents.

“The fact that CPUC is willing to do much more than they are doing right now to be open and transparent – I think that’s a good thing,” Yee said. “But the best step is to support my bill and to pass it.”

To view the proposed regulations, go to: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/162152.pdf 

SOURCE: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/26/BARU1NQEH0.DTL

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey visits Allentown to call for greater transparency on pipeline safety information

Visiting the site of last year’s massive gas explosion in Allentown, U.S. Sen.Bob Casey, D-Pa., announced he was pushing for Pennsylvania to improve public transparency regarding pipeline safety information.

In a letter he sent today to the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Casey said improving that transparency will help reduce the amount gas pipeline incidents and help protect state residents.

“The Public Utility Commission should be providing more information to the people of Allentown, the people of the Lehigh Valley, and the people of this Commonwealth,” Casey said.

He made the statement at the gravel lot at 13th and Allen streets, which was the site of several homes before the Feb. 9, 2011, explosion.

Casey cited an independent report by the Pipeline Safety Trust that gave Pennsylvania a score of 0.75 out of 3 in pipeline information transparency, and ranked it 25th among states in that area.

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said the report was conducted in November and is “flawed” because it was based in part on areas where the commission has no jurisdiction.

“In general, Pennsylvania is in line with all of the other states when it comes to access to its information on pipeline safety,” Kocher said. “We are continuing to pursue gas safety improvements including the manner in which records are made to the public.”

But Casey said the report found the commission only provides agency staff contact information and information on pipeline regulations.

That means it provides no information on incident data, inspection records, enforcement records or excavation damage data, he said.

Casey sent a letter to Commission Chairman Robert Powelson requesting immediate steps to share more data.

Kocher said some of the information not available on their website can be found on the U.S.Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration website. She also said the commission has ongoing efforts to increase pipeline safety.

“Among other things, we are seeking the placement of a training facility for pipeline safety inspectors here in Pennsylvania to help with the current two-year backlog in training for inspectors,” she said.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski joined Casey this morning in urging more transparency.

UGI replaced seven miles of Allentown gas main in 2011 and plans to replace 7.5 miles in 2012, which will leave about 64.5 miles of cast-iron pipe in the city.

UGI spokesman Joe Swope previously said UGI also installed a system in October allowing Allentown and the company to communicate and coordinate more efficiently on infrastructure projects through map-based solutions online.

An investigation into the exact cause of last year’s gas explosion is still ongoing.

Kocher said some information like maps and specific locations of gas pipelines are withheld for homeland security reasons. Casey said he believes a middle ground can be reached where the state is more transparent without creating safety problems.

Pawlowski said that, if certain information could not be provided due to homeland security issues, it could at least be given to city officials and not the public at large.

“Information about water pipelines are public, and if there was a terroristic threat, I’d think it would come from poisoning our water supply rather than the gas pipelines,” he said.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/allentown/index.ssf/2012/03/us_sen_bob_casey_visits_allent.html

Manx2 crash landing was caused by corrosion

Air accident investigators have confirmed that mechanical failure caused an aircraft to crash land at Ronaldsway.

The UK-based Air Accident Investigation Branch has issued a safety recommendation to the European Aviation Safety Agency following the accident.

Emergency services were called into action at just before 6pm on Thursday, March 8, when the Manx2 service from Leeds Bradford Airport got into difficulties after landing at Ronaldsway.

Twelve passengers were escorted shaken but unharmed from the aircraft which was operated by Lincolnshire-based Links Air, on behalf of Manx2. The two crew members also escaped unscathed.

Now a preliminary investigation by the AAIB has concluded that a corrosion crack in a metal component caused the right hand landing gear of the Jetstream to collapse, resulting in the plane skidding along the runway on its wingtip and coming to rest in the grass at the side.

The AAIB found that the accident was caused by stress corrosion cracking in a metal component at the top of the right main landing gear leg.

Its report describes how almost immediately after the aircraft touched down it leaned to the right and there was an unusual noise.

Investigators say that the corrosion was not detected by a visual inspection carried out 11 days before the incident nor during a test of the landing gear completed 10 months before – although the amount of corrosion in the crack and on the steel spigots suggest it was present then.

As these inspection requirements didn’t detect the crack, the AAIB has issued a safety recommendation to the European Aviation Safety Agency that it review the effectiveness of an airworthiness directive in identifying cracks in the yoke pintle housing on landing gears fitted to Jetstream 31 aircraft.

SOURCE: http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/traffic-and-transport/manx2-crash-landing-was-caused-by-mechanical-failure-1-4384557

Pipeline set to link pair of projects – Marcellus Shale

Mike Stice, President of Chesapeake Midstream Development, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy, spoke during the Marcellus Midstream Conference & Exhibition in Pittsburgh this week. He said the potential for collecting methane, ethane, butane, propane, pentane and even oil make the Utica and Marcellus shale formations very attractive to companies like his.

“The diversity of the opportunities is where the strength lies,” he said. “We find ourselves on the cusp of a breakthrough for natural gas and oil.”

Chesapeake Energy and its partners will run a 12-inch diameter pipeline to connect the northern and southern portions of its $900 million natural gas processing complex in Harrison and Columbiana counties.

In total, the Oklahoma City-based company plans to lay 200 miles of pipelines across Eastern Ohio in 2012, most of which will be located in Harrison, Jefferson, Columbiana and Carroll counties.

Chesapeake is building the plant with M3 Midstream and EV Energy Partners. Frank Tsuru, president and chief executive officer of M3, also spoke at the conference, highlighting the 12-inch pipeline that will connect the Harrison and Columbiana portions of the major complex.

According to a map on the M3 website, it appears the Harrison County portion of the complex would be built near Scio, while the Columbiana County part would be located near Hanoverton.

The processing facility to be located in Columbiana County will have an initial capacity of 600 million cubic feet per day. Natural gas liquids, via the 12-inch pipeline, will be delivered to a central hub complex in Harrison County that will feature an initial storage capacity of 870,000 barrels. The Harrison County facility also will have fractionation capacity of 90,000 barrels per day, as well as a substantial rail-loading facility, according to Chesapeake.

Chesapeake officials also want to make sure the industry flourishes in Ohio, noting they agree with a comment Gov. John Kasich made during his State of the State speech at Steubenville High School earlier this year.

During the conference, Mark Halbritter, managing director of commercial activities for Dominion Transmission, discussed the company’s $500 million processing complex, which is scheduled to open south of Moundsville by the end of this year. He said a second phase of the plant that would be completed next year could raise the final cost to about $800 million. He said the facility is strategically positioned along the Ohio River so it can process gas derived from the Utica and Marcellus formations.

As for ethane that is derived at the Natrium site, Halbritter said the complex will be able to send ethane to Canada, the Gulf Coast, or to any local ethane cracker, such as the one Royal Dutch Shell plans for Monaca, Pa.

“We expect enough ethane to support both pipelines and up to two crackers,” Halbritter’s presentation states, adding the company anticipates more than 400,000 barrels of ethane will be derived from the Marcellus and Utica shales by 2020.

Jeannie Stell is the editor of Midstream Business magazine, said industry leaders have learned valuable lessons over the past few years of working in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

“It is never too early to start applying for a permit,” she referenced as one of these lessons. A second lesson, Stell added, is that laying pipelines in the sometimes rugged terrain of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania can be more challenging than doing so in the relative flat country of Oklahoma and Texas.

MATCOR was an active participate and exhibitor at this conference.

SOURCE: http://www.heraldstaronline.com/page/content.detail/id/571616/Pipeline-set-to-link-pair-of-projects.html?nav=5010

New Jersey Natural Gas wants to spend $204M on new pipes

New Jersey Natural Gas wants to replace about 343 miles of distribution pipes, old mains that are in danger of corrosion and leaks.

If approved by state regulators, the proposed five-year, $204 million project will occur throughout Monmouth, Ocean and Morris counties. The Wall-based utility sent the proposal to the state Board of Public Utilities on Tuesday.

It will replace cast iron and steel distribution lines that are at least 45 years old, as well as associated lines and meters that are connected to customers’ homes, spokesman Michael Kinney said. The scope of the project accounts for 60 percent of the utility’s aged infrastructure, which totals 570 miles out of more than 7,000 miles of pipe.

The cast iron and steel distribution mains, which either lack or have deteriorated wax or epoxy coatings, were commonly use in the industry prior to 1970, the utility said. They are more susceptible to corrosion and leaks and account for over 95 percent of all leaks found on the system, not accounting damage from others.

After it is approved, the utility will file a request with the BPU in June to raise its base rate each year the program is in effect. The project is estimated to annually raise customers bills $8.44, or 0.7 percent, on average, for the typical residential heating customer using 1,000 therms a year, over the life of the program, the utility said.

The utility is calling the program Safe Acceleration and Facility Enhancement. “Ensuring safe, reliable service for our customers and the communities we serve is the most important thing we do,” said Laurence M. Downes, chairman and chief executive officer of New Jersey Natural Gas.

“With the SAFE program, we are looking to upgrade our older and more susceptible infrastructure to ensure the integrity of our system and best serve our customers,” Downes said.

The locations of specific projects for the first year will be filed with regulators after the program is approved, the utility said. The five-year time frame is meant to minimize the impact on towns, help scheduling and give it the ability to buy materials in bulk, Kinney said. It comes as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood pushes for increased pipeline safety, Kinney said. The state’s Energy Master Plan also places an emphasis on investment in natural gas infrastructure.

SOURCE: http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20120320/NJBIZ/303200021/Gas-utility-wants-new-pipes

Pittsburgh-area site is chosen for major refinery

Shell Oil Co. has chosen a site near Pittsburgh for a major, multi-billion-dollar petrochemical refinery that could create thousands of construction jobs and provide a huge economic boost to the region.

Dan Carlson, Shell’s General Manager of New Business Development, said Thursday that the company signed a land option agreement with Horsehead Corp. to evaluate a site near Monaca, about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

The so-called ethane cracking, or cracker, plant would convert ethane from bountiful Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids into more profitable chemicals such as ethylene, which are then used to produce everything from plastics to tires to antifreeze.

The plants are called crackers because they use heat and other processes to break the ethane molecules into smaller chemical components. A cracker plant looks very similar to a gasoline refinery, with miles of pipes and large storage tanks. The final complex could cover several hundred acres.

Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania had all sought the plant and offered Shell major tax incentives. Monaca is about 15 miles from both the Ohio and West Virginia borders, so workers in all three states are likely to benefit.

Shell has said that it could spend several billion dollars to build the plant, and that the complex would attract a wide range of industry and suppliers to nearby locations. But actual construction is still years away. The company said the next steps are environmental and design studies and further economic analysis, then permits.

One lifelong resident of the Pennsylvania township almost broke down on hearing the news.

“Oh my God. It makes me want to cry. That’s just the best news,” said Christie Floyd-Gabel, Potter Township’s secretary.

It’s also an unexpected turn for Horsehead’s zinc factory on the banks of the Ohio River, which is currently operating. In September the company announced plans to shut the factory by 2013 and relocate to North Carolina, along with most of its 600 workers.

“That was a major loss,” Floyd-Gabel said of Horsehead’s plans to depart, adding that’s it’s amazing that another major corporation may come in to replace Horsehead.

Ali Alavi, a Horsehead spokesman, said the company would have to vacate the over 300-acre site by April 30, 2014, under the terms of the option agreement with Shell.

Shell said the Horsehead site had the mix of resource and transportation attributes “to accommodate facilities for a world scale petrochemical complex and potential future expansions.”

The American Chemistry Council, in a report last year, estimated the new petrochemical complex could attract up to $16 billion in private investment. Shell estimated the core plant could employ several hundred people and create up to 10,000 construction jobs.

Gov. Tom Corbett said at a press conference that the plant could lead to the “renewal of a significant manufacturing base in southwestern Pennsylvania,” but cautioned that the announcement is “the first pitch in a nine-inning game.”

If the plant is built, Shell would be able to supply it partly with gas from its own wells, giving it more control over supply and costs. The company paid $4.7 billion in 2010 for drilling rights to about 650,000 acres in the region.

That also means that Shell could benefit even from the low wholesale prices that have worried some gas drillers, since a cracker plant’s raw material costs would be lower.

Labor leaders welcomed the announcement.

Frank Snyder, secretary-treasurer for the Pennsylvania AFL/CIO, said it represented “some of the most positive economic news for the working families of western Pennsylvania in over a generation.”

“Indeed, all of Pennsylvania can have hope this spring in the anticipated partnership between a world class workforce and a world class business,” said Snyder.

Shell’s choice may also represent an indication of just how strongly the industry feels about the vast gas reserves in nearby underground shale rock formations, given the multi-billion dollar commitments it has made. Carlson told The Associated Press that any plant must be economically competitive with existing cracker plants in Louisiana and Texas, and even with international plants.

The Marcellus Shale, which lies thousands of feet underground, has attracted a rush of major oil companies, who have drilled almost 5,000 new wells in the last five years. The Marcellus covers large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, and drillers have also started to tap the adjacent, deeper Utica Shale formation.

Ohio and West Virginia officials had made all-out efforts to attract the plant. Last year West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said, “We intend to compete with the last breath in our body to attract one or more crackers,” and both West Virginia’s and Ohio’s governor flew to Houston to meet with Shell officials.

West Virginia offered to slash property tax rates for 25 years in exchange for at least $2 billion worth of investment. Pennsylvania offered 15 years of tax breaks and Ohio also reportedly courted Shell with major incentives.

Corbett said he can’t disclose the full details of the tax breaks Shell has been offered because of a confidentiality agreement, and because negotiations are continuing.

George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture, said it’s still researching the possible impacts of a cracker plant.

Several other companies are also reportedly considering building similar petrochemical plants in the region.

SOURCE: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20120315_ap_pittsburghareasiteischosenformajorrefinery.html

Canada gives preliminary OK for new pipeline

The Canadian government said it conditionally approved plans by a division of TransCanada to expand natural gas pipeline capacity in the country’s west.

The National Energy Board announced it approved of three natural gas loops in northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta. The 69-mile loops make up the so-called Northwest Mainline Expansion Project submitted by NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd., TransCanada’s Alberta division.

The $325 million project will link natural gas supplies in the region to markets in Canada and the United States, the NEB said.

“The NEB’s approval of this project is contingent on conditions that (NOVA) must meet,” the agency said in a statement. “The conditions relate to pipeline integrity, the protection of the environment, protection and monitoring of caribou habitat, and matters of public and Aboriginal consultation.”

The company estimates production from shale and conventional natural gas plays in the region could reach around 3.5 million cubic feet per day by 2025.
SOURCE: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2012/02/29/Canada-gives-preliminary-OK-for-new-pipeline/UPI-26551330519419/