Capitol Dome Is Imperiled by 1,300 Cracks

The Capitol dome, the nation’s grandest symbol of federal authority, has been dinged by years of inclement weather, and its exterior is in need of repair.

The dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks. Water that has seeped in over the years has caused rusting on the ornamentation and staining on the interior of the Rotunda, just feet below the fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington,” which is painted on the Rotunda’s canopy.

“The dome needs comprehensive rehabilitation,” said Stephen T. Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, whose office oversees the building’s physical state. “It’s a public safety issue.”

The skirt of the dome — the section around the base of the original sandstone foundation — was fixed up recently at a cost of about $20 million, but an additional $61 million is needed to repair and restore the rest of the structure’s exterior.

The Capitol’s first dome, made of copper-covered wood, was completed in 1824 but by the 1850s was deemed too small. It was also seen as a fire hazard in a place where oil lamps, British attacks and other events had caused blazes. A cast-iron replacement was envisioned, and lawmakers, thrilled with the idea, appropriated $100,000 to begin construction, with the acquiescence of President Franklin Pierce.

Construction on the cast-iron dome began in 1856 and progressed through various architects, disputes over the design and the Civil War, when the project was continued in part by workers who were afraid that the military would take the metals and repurpose them for war use, said Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian.

The Statue of Freedom, which sits triumphantly atop the nine million pounds of ironwork that makes up the dome, was completed in December 1863, topping the project. The interior was finished in 1866, its famous fresco revealed. Total cost: $1,047,291, or more than $15 million in today’s dollars.

The dome was completely restored in 1960 during the construction of the Capitol’s East Front extension. Weather remains its biggest enemy: precipitation pelts the exterior, and the statue endures the occasional strike of lightning. At least 100 pieces of the dome have fallen off or been removed, including a 40-pound cast-iron decorative acorn.

Viewed from a (sort of scary) balcony between the fresco above and a frieze depicting American history that lines the Rotunda’s interior, tourists with iPhones and fanny packs can be seen lingering in awe hundreds of feet below, unaware of the water damage and chipping paint above.

“When you have those conditions on the outside,” said Mr. Ayers, the Capitol’s architect, “it really accelerates deterioration on the inside,” including possible damage to the fresco, which is painted on plaster.

In other words, just as it is best to fix a bathroom leak before it causes damage to the rest of the house, the dome repairs could prove much more expensive over time.

The project will involve taking apart many pieces of the dome, one at a time, and then putting them back together once repaired, much like a puzzle, Mr. Ayers said.

In many ways, the process reflects the history of the Capitol and the nation, said Mr. Ritchie, the historian. “The Capitol building is an interesting conglomeration,” he said. “It is a whole series of buildings put together at different times, and in that way it is a nice reflection of American democracy, which was put together piecemeal from a lot of different materials. It reflects one motto of our nation, ‘E pluribus unum,’ Latin for ‘Out of many, one.’ ”

“The Capitol is a wonderful story of the history of our nation,” Mr. Ritchie said. “And as a result it is preserved very carefully to maintain the story, not to mention to keep it from leaking into the Rotunda.”


Pipe corrosion caused explosion and fire at Regina refinery: investigators

REGINA – Fire inspectors say corrosion in a single pipe was behind an explosion and fire at the Co-op refinery in Regina last fall.

Their report says a tear measuring almost 18 centimetres long triggered the initial explosion and subsequent smaller ones.

They say the problem was in a diesel fuel processing area and had been getting worse since 2008 when practices at the plant changed.

Co-op officials say tests hadn’t shown any issues with the pipe.

Seven contract employees that were working on a $2-billion upgrade and expansion were sent to hospital and two more were treated for burns at the plant.

Another 1,400 people had to leave the refinery after the blast that triggered a huge fireball that could be seen all over the city.

Co-op says 80 per cent of the piping in the troubled area has been replaced since the fire and 19 other measures have been taken to increase testing.

The plant had another fire on a much smaller scale in May when an overheated crude oil pump ignited. There were no injuries.


Probe of Chevron fire focuses on corroded pipe

Federal investigators looking into last Monday’s fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond want to know why the 8-inch carbon steel pipe that failed wasn’t replaced in November during a round of maintenance, officials said Sunday.

At that time, the refinery’s crude unit was taken offline, and a 12-inch pipe connected to the same distillation tower was replaced due to corrosion, said Daniel Horowitz, the managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Investigators do not yet know if corrosion in the 8-inch pipe caused a leak of hydrocarbon liquid that ignited. Horowitz said he believed the pipe was inspected last year, along with the 12-inch pipe, but that his agency had not yet reviewed the records.

Investigators are also looking into why the crude unit was kept running while workers tried to fix the leak. They said the workers narrowly escaped the vapor cloud that ignited.

The initial leak “had the effect of drawing people in,” Horowitz said. “We want to understand the decision-making around when you attempt to make a repair and when you shut the unit down.”

Chevron spokesman Justin Higgs said the company was cooperating with the probe and was “committed to better understanding the root cause of this incident.”


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) today announced CEPA Integrity First™

CALGARY, ALBERTA–(Marketwire – Aug. 9, 2012) – The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) today announced CEPA Integrity First™, an industry-wide initiative that will improve pipeline safety and environmental and social performance.

“Pipelines are a fundamental component of Canada’s economy and our industry knows it can do more to ensure Canada’s energy pipeline network remains among the most environmentally sound and safest in the world,” said CEPA President and CEO Brenda Kenny. “Our member companies are already working on improvements and CEPA Integrity First™ will guide and coordinate these efforts.”

CEPA has been working on Integrity First™ for the past several years; the initiative is based on sharing best practices and applying advanced technology throughout the industry. The program will focus on four key areas:

  • Prevention – programs and processes related to pipeline integrity
  • Emergency Response – response systems our members have in place for incidents
  • Reclamation – post-incident activities
  • Education – CEPA will supply additional information about pipelines in Canada

“We have put years of work into this program and we are proud of it,” explains Kenny. “CEPA Integrity First™ will help our members make their pipelines safer than they have ever been.”

CEPA members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil production throughout Canada and into the United States. Between 2002 and 2011, significant incidents on CEPA member pipelines in Canada average slightly more than three per year.

In an advertisement appearing in some Canadian newspapers today, Kenny wrote: “Recent pipeline incidents have raised concerns about pipeline integrity. Canadian pipeline operators have a strong track record for pipeline safety borne out of continuous improvements and deployment of technology. Recent events have demonstrated, though, that we need to do more to reduce the frequency and impact of pipeline events.”

“Three incidents are three too many,” summarized Kenny. “CEPA Integrity First will help us to reach zero incidents.”

CEPA represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 109,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada and the United States. These energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas last year.


Nigeria: Oil Spill Investigations ‘A Fiasco’ in the Niger Delta

The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta has been challenged today by Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), as inconsistencies in Shell’s claims about sabotage were revealed.

Experts have examined evidence from the latest oil spill from Shell’s poorly maintained pipelines in the Bodo creek area and confirmed that it strongly indicates that the leak is due to corrosion of the pipeline. However, Shell appears to be ignoring the evidence of corrosion.

“The investigation process into oil spills in the Niger Delta is a fiasco. There is more investment in public relations messaging than in facing up to the fact that much of the oil infrastructure is old, poorly maintained and prone to leaks – some of them devastating in terms of their human rights impact,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International and CEHRD asked US company, Accufacts, which has many years experience in examining oil infrastructure, to examine photographs of the pipe at the leak point. They stated: “This is apparently due to external corrosion. Notice the layered loss of metal on the outside of the pipe around the “stick” from pipe wall loss (thinning) due to external corrosion. It is a very familiar pattern that we have seen many times on other pipelines.”

“Shell have said locally that the spill looks like sabotage, and they completely ignore the evidence of corrosion. This has generated a lot of confusion and some anger in the community,” said Stevyn Obodoekwe, Director of Programmes at CEHRD. “We have seen the pipe and brought an expert to look at it, and it seems pretty clear it is corroded.”

Shell will now remove the affected length of pipe to a Shell facility where, according to the company, tests will be done.

Shell’s pipelines are old and many have not been properly maintained or replaced, with local people and NGOs reporting that the pipes in the Bodo area have not been replaced since 1958. When Amnesty International asked Shell to confirm the age and status of the pipes the company did not respond.

One year ago, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a major report on the effects of oil pollution in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. Little has changed, as this latest oil spill at Bodo demonstrates. Among its findings, UNEP confirmed that Nigerian regulatory agencies “are at the mercy of oil companies when it comes to conducting site inspections”. UNEP also found that Shell had failed to adhere to its own standards in relation to maintaining its infrastructure.

Thousands of oil spills have occurred in the Niger Delta since the oil industry began operations in the late 1950s. Corrosion of the pipes and equipment failure were responsible for the majority of spills. In recent years sabotage, vandalism and theft of oil have also contributed to pollution. However, corrosion and equipment failure remain very serious problems which have never been addressed.

Oil companies are responsible for ensuring that, as far as possible, their equipment is not vulnerable to tampering. However, Shell has not responded to request to for information on any measures it has taken to prevent sabotage and vandalism.

On 3 August Amnesty International and CEHRD published a report on an oil investigation at Bodo in June/July 2012. The report focuses on the lack of transparency in the process and the failure of shell to disclose any information on the condition or age of its pipes.

Since 2011 Shell has posted oil spill investigation data on its website. This move was welcomed by Amnesty International and CEHRD. However, as research by both organizations has made clear, the process on the ground remains highly problematic, and there is a lack of independence and transparency in the investigations themselves.