Category Archives: Allentown

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

$67 million requested for pipeline safety

Federal pipeline safety programs would get an extra $67 million and nearly 120 new employees under a proposal President Obama announced Monday that brought cheers from safety advocates pushing to address accidents and growing safety concerns.

The request, part of the president’s $3.8 trillion plan, would almost double the number of enforcement agents nationwide, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The increase also would cover improvements from research to accident investigation to information databases, according to an agency news release.

Pennsylvania safety officials and advocates and the national safety group Pipeline Safety Trust all urged Congress to approve the funding, though Republican leaders have said the president’s budget will be dead on arrival there.

Obama’s plan doesn’t provide a comprehensive solution to several key issues as the state’s pipeline system expands to handle the rush of shale gas, several officials said.

“It is helpful, but there are still huge gaps in pipeline safety,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.

The Obama administration has been pushing for safety system upgrades for more than a year in light of deadly explosions in Allentown, Philadelphia and suburban San Francisco.

Pennsylvania has a growing expanse of pipeline from shale gas development and one of the country’s oldest home heating gas transport and distribution systems. Utility and pipeline companies were spending about $800 million annually going into 2011 to beef up the system, in part to meet increasing federal safety demands.

State lawmakers in December passed rules that will allow them to receive federal funding and hire 12 to 15 inspectors. The Public Utility Commission still wants Congress to pass the increase as part of a general need to improve safety, spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

The state has 60,000 miles of pipe, and drillers could add 25,000 miles, according to federal figures and a report from the Nature Conservancy, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. Nationwide, there were 10 pipeline incidents causing six deaths, seven injuries and more than $4.2 million in damage last year, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s online database.
SOURCE: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_781486.html

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission plans to expand oversight rules on natural gas pipelines

State regulators are moving toward stricter oversight of natural gas pipelines, though officials say that effort began before the Allentown explosion that killed five people one year yesterday.

“We’ve been really taking a close look, partly because of some of the tragic incidents, but also because of the expansion of Marcellus Shale in the state,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for thePennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The PUC is currently accepting public comment on a proposal that would require natural gas utilities to annually submit pipeline replacement and performance plans.

If the new rules — proposed on Nov. 10 — take effect, utilities with intrastate operating revenues of more than $40 million would have to file plans this spring or summer with final approval scheduled for late 2012 or early 2013.

The plans basically require utilities to submit replacement time frames for aging pipes as well as updates on damage prevention and corrosion control efforts.

The PUC said it is also enhancing “frost patrol” reviews — winter surveys that gas utilities conduct to assess how safely pipes can endure freezing temperatures — to demand more frequent and detailed updates.

The state said it regularly reviews safety protocols, though it acknowledged the Feb. 9, 2011, explosion added urgency.

The explosion, which leveled an entire block of homes on North 13th Street, is believed to have resulted from a break in a UGI Utilities natural gas main.

The PUC said a surge in natural gas drilling relating to Marcellus Shale as well as a need to bring state standards in better compliance with evolving federal regulations influenced the changes.

Reading-based UGI said it supports the state revisions. The company said it began upgrading procedures before the blast, though it admitted making further improvements, such as conducting more comprehensive leak surveys, after the explosion.

That coincides with the company’s accelerated timeframe for replacing cast-iron pipe with high-density plastic or coated steel, UGI spokesman Joseph Swope said. 

“We have been aggressive,” Swope said. “We have accelerated those plans.”

Other nearby utilities said the explosion prompted a review of safety protocols, though none said they changed policy directly because of the Allentown blast.

PECO Gas spokesman Ben Armstrong said the company, which serves Bucks, Montgomery, and other counties, spends about $80 million a year to maintain its natural gas system.

Armstrong said PECO conducts walking surveys on all transmission pipelines every two months, leak inspections every six months, and annual inspection of valves, among other reviews.

“None of the procedures were revised directly because to the incidents in Allentown or Philadelphia,” Armstrong said, referring to another explosion last year that killed a Philadelphia Gas Works employee. “We have a vigorous maintenance and inspection system in place.”

Elizabethtown Gas, a subsidiary of AGL Resources serving Warren and Hunterdon counties, said system upgrades are ongoing irrespective of the blast.

Spokesman Duane Bourne said Elizabethtown is completing a $108 million improvement plan approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities that would replace 70 miles of aging cast-iron pipe across its New Jersey service area. Work began in 2009.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2012/02/pennsylvania_public_utility_co.html

Allentown, UGI differ over whether pace of gas pipeline replacement is enough

The gas pipe that leaked and is believed to have caused a massive gas explosion in Allentown nearly one year ago was first installed in 1928.

Eighty-three years old at the time, the pipe was slightly below the average age of the cast-iron pipelines running through the city.

Out of about 72 miles of cast-iron pipe in Allentown, the average pipeline age falls between 90 and 120 years, according to Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

One year after the Feb. 9, 2011, blast that claimed five lives and destroyed eight houses, Pawlowski said he thinks UGI is still not doing enough to speed up replacing the aging pipes.

The public utility company told a special U.S. Senate committee last year it would take 40 years to replace all of the city’s cast-iron pipes.

UGI officials say they have stepped up the pace at which they are replacing cast-iron pipe with high-density plastic in Allentown and the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

The company replaced seven miles of city gas main in 2011, UGI spokesman Joe Swope said. That’s more than the six miles it planned to replace, which itself is more than twice what the company had replaced the year before.

In 2012, UGI plans to replace seven and a half miles of pipeline, Swope said. That would leave about 64.5 miles of cast-iron pipe in the city.

But replacing pipeline costs about $650,000 per mile, and UGI officials have previously said they cannot replace gas lines at this pace every year.

Even if they stuck to six miles per year, Pawlowski said, it would take more than a decade to replace it all, which the mayor said is too long.

If undisturbed, cast-iron pipe can operate for years without problems. But as they age, they become less resilient and more susceptible to leaks, cracks and pressure from street traffic.

The new pipe installed by UGI is made of a sturdier high-density plastic, Swope said, which is often sleeved through the existing cast-iron pipe to create an additional layer of protection.

There are 217 miles of cast-iron pipe in the Lehigh Valley. That does not include 13 miles worth that were replaced in 2011, Swope said.

Since most of the Valley’s cast-iron pipeline falls outside Allentown, this is a regional concern, not a city issue, Pawlowski said.

As of 2010, UGI’s three utilities in Pennsylvania have 11,627.49 miles of pipeline statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Of that, 1,827.197 miles, or 15.71 percent, are either cast iron or bare steel, which PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher described as “risky pipeline.”

Swope said that since 2000, UGI has replaced more than 290 miles of cast-iron pipe systemwide, and the company spent $43 million on natural gas main and service replacements last year alone.

It will probably cost UGI about $4.9 million to replace the seven and a half miles of cast-iron pipeline it plans to replace this year in Allentown, Swope said.

Among the challenges in replacing older pipeline is finding construction crews qualified for the work and working with municipalities to determine which mains should be replaced in which order, he said.

There are 60,418 miles of pipeline throughout the state, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group

Of that, 47,051 are for gas distribution and service, 10,834 are gas transmission and 2,532 are hazardous liquid, according to the organization.

Nationally, 31 percent of gas distribution lines were installed prior to new regulations in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/allentown/index.ssf/2012/02/allentown_ugi_differ_over_whet.html

Pennsylvania Public Utility posts new rules for replacing aging pipelines

Noting the Feb. 9 natural gas explosion that killed five Allentown residents, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last week proposed requiring gas utilities to file plans outlining how much aging underground pipelines leak and when the utilities intend to replace them.

The PUC unanimously agreed without discussion to seek comments on the proposal, which was developed in light of “recent tragic incidents” as well as the growth of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells and changing federal gas safety regulations, a PUC statement said. Comments can be filed with the PUC up to Dec. 2.

“These plans will tentatively be required to include infrastructure replacement time frames and a proposal for the means by which the cost of the infrastructure replacement program should be addressed in rates,” PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson and Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr. said in joint statement.

Under the proposal, utilities would have to file pipeline replacement and performance plans. The plans should include a time frame for replacing aging pipelines and performance standards that include damage prevention, corrosion control and distribution system leaks, it said. Utilities would have to file plans next spring or summer, with final approval by the PUC late next year or early 2013.

Replacing old lines became a higher priority for Allentown on Feb. 9, after a pipeline owned by UGI Utilities installed in 1928 leaked, leading to the fatal blast at 13th and Allen streets. After the explosion, UGI released a plan showing it intended to replace six miles of old cast-iron pipeline in Allentown, more than doubling what it did in 2010. As of earlier this year, Allentown had 79 miles of cast-iron natural gas pipe beneath its streets and about 230 total in the Lehigh Valley.

UGI officials Thursday had not had an opportunity to consider the PUC’s action, said Daniel Adamo, business development director. “UGI will completely review the tentative order and will plan to comment by the deadline,” he said. “We believe it is our responsibility to safely deliver natural gas to our customers,” he added.

The commission action also requires gas utilities to provide distribution integrity management program plans, which are required by the federal government, with the PUC by Nov. 30. In 2009, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued new regulations that required gas distribution companies, such as UGI, to adopt written plans for continuous review of data to identify threats to pipeline systems, evaluating risks, and implementing measures to reduce risks.

As part of its proposed regulations, the PUC also plans to mandate “frost surveys,” which are leak surveys that utilities perform during cold weather months. The regulation would require frost surveys from Nov. 1 to April 30 each year. Previously, the PUC asked, but hadn’t mandated, frost surveys.

The leak surveys are to be conducted weekly or monthly, depending on the location and size of the line, the PUC said. The utilities would be required to report all leaks every other week and provide a schedule for repairing them, it said.

SOURCE: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-pennsylvania-puc-gas-pipeline-safety-20111110,0,1755685.story