Concerned Vermonters have compiled evidence of serious and chronic safety issues surrounding construction of the Vermont Gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. These were detailed and documented in a letter delivered to Governor Scott and a similar letter also delivered to the federal Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration on Monday, April 10th from eight Vermont organizations (listed below). Vermont Gas plans to add flammable gas, under pressure, to the pipeline within the next few weeks.
The letters state: “The pipeline has been constructed in haste and without consistent and effective regulatory oversight. Those living near the pipeline are now at risk of harm from a potential pipeline failure, leak or explosion.”
Evidence gathered from numerous public records requests and observations show a wide range of problems involving electrical safety, problems with welds and coatings, incorrect placement and handling of pipe and more. Indications are that the company did not even have the essential and required comprehensive written specifications for construction in place. Contractors were therefore left without proper guidelines. Workers were not properly qualified for tasks. Inspectors were not provided with protocols for inspection and required onsite technical experts were not present as required. These problems were raised throughout multiple years of construction and in most cases appear never to have been resolved while construction was allowed to continue. The pipeline now lies buried underground.
A prior communication from the groups to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) in October 2016 led to an announcement in January 2017 that the federal agency would open an investigation. Since then, many additional problems have come to light and are presented in detail in documents delivered along with the letters.
The letters follow a public forum wherein citizens implored the Department of Public Safety to request the Public Service Board reopen the pipeline’s Certificate of Public Good and prevent gas from flowing through the pipeline pending a thorough review of the safety issues. The Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus thereafter delivered a letter to DPS Commissioner Tierney reiterating the request. A petition in support of that letter has gathered close to 1,000 signatures.
Rachel Smolker, a Hinesburg resident stated: “The more we learn about it, the more it is clear that this project was very poorly constructed without meeting even the most basic minimum federal safety requirements. This casts serious doubt on the safety and integrity of the pipeline. Vermonters are now left not only to pay for the vastly escalated costs of the project which have more than doubled, but also will bear the consequences of the long term safety risks to life and property which now lie buried out of site in our yards and through our communities. It would be unconscionable for the governor, the DPS and PSB to allow gas to flow through this pipeline given what we now know. Just look around and you will see that pipeline leaks and explosions are becoming all too common and can be devastating. Studies show that these incidents most often stem from avoidable errors during construction of new pipelines, which is precisely what we are witnessing here in Vermont.”