Dan Hust | Democrat
Dozens of workers and equipment are busy these days installing a compressor station along Hungry Hill Road in Long Eddy. During a procedure on Thursday to connect the compressor’s loop line to the main Millennium Pipeline, an accident forced the workers to vent gas from 10 miles of the main line, and they convinced a nearby family to temporarily evacuate their home.
Pipeline accident results in venting of gas
Story by Dan Hust
LONG EDDY December 10, 2013 Jessica and Andy Kenyon were preparing for bed Thursday night when Millennium Pipeline workers knocked on their door.
“They said there was an incident and they’d have to do an emergency blowdown,” Jessica recalled the day after.
The pipeline passes within about 600 feet of their house on Hungry Hill Road in Long Eddy, just over the Sullivan line in Delaware County, where the couple live with their two children, ages 4 and 13.
“They told us we could stay, but we’d deal with a very loud noise for a very long time,” she added.
That noise, they were told, could reach 100 decibels, equivalent to the noise emitted by a power mower, subway train or motorcycle. Sustained exposure to that level can result in hearing loss, and pipeline workers estimated it would go on for at least an hour.
Millennium offered to put them up at a hotel overnight. But since it was already past 9:30 Thursday evening, the Kenyons packed up a few items and headed three miles down Route 97 to a relative’s home, where they spent the night.
“I didn’t sleep,” Jessica said, worried about what she felt were frantic, panicky looks on workers’ faces.
Early the next morning, the company called the Kenyons and told them the operation was over and they could return.
By 4:30 a.m., Jessica and Andy left their sleeping kids and headed back up Hungry Hill to tend to their home’s woodstove and get ready for work.
Later in the day, the entire family returned without incident, but Jessica remains uneasy.
“We’re not happy how they [Millennium] handled it,” she remarked.
Neither is the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, which was notified of a “clearing out” of the pipeline at 9:55 p.m., without any word that a family had been asked to temporarily leave their home.
“We should have been provided information pertaining to an evacuation, whether voluntary or mandatory,” Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond said yesterday.
Long Eddy Fire Chief Pam Wayne, whose department covers the Hungry Hill area, was informed of the venting and associated road closure shortly after 10 p.m. that night, and again at 1 a.m. when the road was reopened.
She felt Millennium should have informed more residents of Hungry Hill, even though she’s been told this kind of procedure is done “every so often, supposedly to make sure the pipe is good.”
“They should have let a lot more people know,” Wayne remarked, noting that people were calling 911 and police, asking about the situation.
The NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation was notified a few hours later, said Region 4 spokesman Rick Georgeson, by the federal National Response Center. It took no action.
Ultimately, Wayne, DuMond and Delaware County Emergency Services Deputy Director Steve Hood agree Millennium appeared to have followed its stated procedures.
Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic shared that sentiment. Though he wasn’t informed of the incident till the day after, he spoke with several higher-ups in the gas company and was told it was a situation that the company was prepared to handle.
“They insisted this was not an emergency,” he recalled.
Martinkovic affirmed that local emergency services including the Long Eddy FD have consistently trained for the roles they would play in gas-line emergencies, though he added that they would not actually fight a pipeline fire.
That’s true, confirmed Wayne, who said the water spraying on pipeline circuitry could actually damage the equipment used to contain any fire.
“We’ve got a game plan, and the fire department is well-trained and ready to go,” Martinkovic said.
In this case, there were no fires or injuries. Emergency services did not respond, and from what Martinkovic was told, they didn’t need to.
“It was an accident,” confirmed Millennium spokes-man Steve Sullivan. “It was not anticipated.”
But Millennium’s workers safely handled it and the venting response, he added.
“This is not an everyday occurrence, but it’s not out of the ordinary,” Sullivan ex-plained.
However, it did involve a large release of natural gas into the atmosphere from 10 miles worth of pipeline (the distance back to the next valve), according to Sullivan.
The methane, he added, “dissipates very quickly, and none of it goes into the ground.”
Sullivan said the accident occurred while workers were preparing a loop line off the main pipeline to serve a compressor station that’s being built across Hungry Hill Road from the Kenyons’ home. While cutting into the main line to connect the loop, it became necessary to vent the pipe.
“We reduced the pressure by letting off the gas,” Sullivan said.
The Kenyons didn’t have to leave but were asked to do so because “safety is always the number one consideration,” he remarked.
“Because it was a large release of gas, we wanted to make sure they were well away from the location,” Sullivan said.
But he added that the 100-decibel levels would have only been experienced if one was right on top of the venting. Workers told him that the noise at a house closer to the site than the Kenyons’ was equal to that of a “loud air-conditioner.”
Jessica Kenyon wasn’t home at the time, so she doesn’t know how loud the venting operation was.
But she’s not convinced it was any kind of routine procedure, and she’s disturbed there was no emergency response to what the company spokesman acknowledges was an accident.
She added that the pipeline’s presence isn’t an issue a gas line has run through that area for the past century, far longer than the 18 years she’s resided on Hungry Hill.
“We’ve kind of accepted that it’s here and there’s nothing we can do,” she acknowledged.
But the Kenyons have argued against the compressor station now being constructed across the road, as they’re worried what kind of noise and economic impacts its 15,000-horsepower turbine may have on their lives and property.
On its website (www.millenniumpipeline.com/hancock_compressor.html), Millennium states the noise level at nearby residences won’t exceed 55 decibels, but in the meantime, Jessica has plenty of questions, not the least of which is if Thursday’s situation might reoccur.
“I want answers,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to find.”