Tag Archives: UGI

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

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