By Kathy Daley
SULLIVAN COUNTY A leak in the Millennium natural gas pipeline that starts northwest of here and stretches underground through much of Sullivan County has prompted federal officials to declare that the pipeline may pose a safety risk.
On July 6, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent a certified letter to Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, which operates the pipeline, ordering the company to inspect the line and repair any problems by Dec. 31.
The DOT’s July safety order came six months after a worker in a remote area of Tioga County observed bubbles in a creek during a routine inspection of the pipeline. The cause of the Jan. 11 gas leak, according to the DOT report, was a “pinhole” in a weld joining two pieces of 30-inch diameter pipe.
Records indicate that the pipe section should not have been installed. The section failed visual inspection, was set aside, but then was inadvertently picked up and installed, the DOT wrote.
“After evaluating… and considering the age of the pipe involved, the manufacturer, the hazardous nature of the product transported and the pressure required for transporting such product, the characteristics of the geographical areas where the pipeline facility is located, and the likelihood that the conditions could worsen or develop on other areas of the pipeline and potentially impact its serviceability,” wrote the DOT in its safety order, “it appears that the continued operation of the affected pipeline without corrective measures would pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property or the environment.”
Other welds with similar defect “may also develop leaks and potentially lead to a rupture of the pipeline,” the safety order says.
The section of the pipeline that is of most concern to the federal agency is that which runs from Corning to Ramapo County, a stretch that includes the Sullivan County towns of Fremont, Delaware, Cochecton, Tusten, Bethel, Highland, Lumberland and Forestburgh.
Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas said he received a letter from Millennium in July that it planned to conduct inspections along the pipeline. Maas said he thought it was a routine matter, but will give the letter more attention now.
For his part, Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Richard Martinkovic said he met with Columbia Gas Transmission in January after the Tioga County spill.
“We got a thorough explanation about how the pipe is put in the ground, monitored and tested from time to time,” Martinkovic said. “We feel the company does have its act together. They have sophisticated monitoring equipment that alerts them if there is a drop in pressure (which indicates a leak).”
“I am more comfortable with this new line than the old one,” Martinkovic added, referring to the year-and-a-half-old line that replaces a pipeline constructed in the 1930s.
Martinkovic said he spoke to Tioga County officials after the January leak to confirm that Columbia Transmission shut down the system there and did a complete replacement of the faulty portion of the pipeline.
“The fact that there’s one pinhole doesn’t mean there’s more,” Martinkovic said. “It was faulty at that spot but I believe it’s not faulty everywhere else.”
By Dec. 31, Columbia must examine the pipeline from Corning to Ramapo to ensure that the welds are holding. Specifically, the company must excavate or X-ray certain “suspect” welds that were identified during the federal study of the gas line leak.
The gas leak in Tioga County did not ignite and no one was hurt.
The most recent serious U.S. gas rupture took place in San Bruno, Calif., where eight people died in a blast caused by a break in a natural gas line.