Michigan: The pipeline accident in Blackman Township has some residents wondering about pipes running near their homes.

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Michigan: The pipeline accident in Blackman Township has some residents wondering about pipes running near their homes.

Sunday, September 17, 2000

By Linda Stiles Staff Writer

Gerald Surbrook wasn't worried when he learned last year that a new petroleum pipeline would cross his Rives Township farm, running alongside a Consumers Energy electric transmission line north toward Rives Junction.

"It didn't look like that big a deal until that pipeline in Blackman blew up," Surbrook said.

Now, residents throughout the region are taking a second look at pipelines, wondering if they are ticking time bombs, and if any are located near their property.

The pipeline on the horizon for Surbrook's farm is being built by Wolverine Pipe Line Co. - the same company that owns the line that ruptured in Blackman Township in June, spilling 75,000 gallons of gasoline into a stream near the Grand River and driving 600 families from their homes for about five days.

If approved by state regulators later this year, Wolverine intends to build a separate branch of the pipeline - forking off from a storage facility in Blackman Township, near the spill area - to serve northern Michigan.

The pipeline currently runs from Joliet, Ill., to the Detroit area.

The northern branch would travel along the Consumers right of way for electric transmission lines through Rives Township, turning east to join the path of a Lakehead Pipe Line Co. line to Stockbridge, then heading north to follow a former Total petroleum line to Lansing and Alma.

Meanwhile, a new 42-inch Vector natural gas pipeline was installed across much of northern Jackson County this summer. It also follows the Lakehead Pipeline route through Springport and Tompkins townships, joining the proposed new Wolverine branch in northern Rives Township and pushing east.

Built as a joint venture

The 344-mile, $504 million Vector pipeline is being built as a joint venture of several companies, including the parent company of Michigan Consolidated Gas Co.

Wolverine's expansion also will result in the addition of another large tank at a storage facility on Grimes Road, northwest of Stockbridge. That's a smaller version of the Morrill Road storage facility in Blackman Township.

With the addition of the new Vector line and the proposed Wolverine expansion, four petroleum pipelines and three major natural-gas transmission lines will crisscross Jackson County, according to maps obtained from Consumers Energy and the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Three of them cross Anna Taylor's property, northeast of Leslie - the Lakehead and Vector pipelines and the proposed Wolverine extension.

'Dangerous, pure and simple'

"I think it's dangerous, pure and simple," said Taylor, who owns the Wheel-Inn Campground and Whitetail Acres Archery Range on Fogg Road with her husband, Daniel.

Her fears were heightened last month, when a natural-gas transmission line exploded near Carlsbad, N.M., killing 12, including five children.

Taylor fears that if one pipe explodes, they all will blow.

"You'd have explosion after explosion. I just don't think those three mix," she said.

Utilities and pipeline companies say that both for practical reasons and for safety, it's best to group the pipes together, although they leave a margin for safety between each one.

It's time consuming to persuade land owners to allow pipelines to cross their property, said Paul W. Preketes, senior vice president for gas operations at Consumers Energy.

Took Consumers 18 months

It took Consumers 18 months to acquire 17 miles of right of way near Rochester for a natural-gas line extension, he said.

"It's common to follow existing right of way corridors," Preketes said. It's also safer, he said.

That's because the majority of damage to pipelines is caused by construction workers and by private individuals digging in their own yards, Preketes said.

Those accidents account for 80 percent of damaged gas lines, he said.

By keeping pipelines, fiber optic cables and other such equipment in one place, contractors and others are more apt to realize the lines are there and use precautions when working near them, he said.

"In known petroleum corridors, it's less likely" for lines to be damaged by what the pipeline industry calls "dig-ins," Preketes said.

The pipes are buried at least 4 feet deep, said Ron Embry, a spokesman for Wolverine Pipe Line Co.'s management division in Houston, Texas.

And pipes are spaced about 25 feet apart in typical 75-foot-wide utility corridors, Preketes said.

"It is very unlikely that an event would impact another line," Embry said.

In New Mexico this summer, another nearby natural-gas pipeline didn't appear to be damaged, according to the U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety, a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The blast ripped a crater 86 feet long but not wide enough to expose the other pipeline.

Both Wolverine Pipe Line and Consumers Energy say they use many types of monitoring and testing to ensure the safety of their pipelines.

Heightened public concerns

But spills and explosions in recent years have heightened public concerns.

An average of five people die each year in accidents involving major natural gas transmission lines and petroleum pipelines, according to a 15-year summary by the federal pipeline safety office

Besides the Blackman Township and New Mexico pipeline disasters this summer, three people were killed when a gasoline pipeline exploded in Bellingham, Wash., last year.

Several other recent incidents have resulted in injuries or spills but no fatalities.

Proposed pipeline safety legislation in Washington would tighten safety rules for inspection and testing.

The House version of the bill is being co-sponsored by Addison Republican Rep. Nick Smith.

The petroleum industry says pipelines are the safest way to transport its products.

Truck accidents more deadly

Tanker truck accidents contribute to 87 times as many deaths and twice as many injuries on a per-gallon and per-mile basis, Embry said.

But as more pipelines are installed to meet a growing appetite for energy, citizen pressure is growing to improve safety practices.

Wolverine had expected to begin construction on its new pipeline this summer but was delayed while state regulators consider the pleas of Lansing-area residents to detour the pipeline around their heavily populated neighborhoods.

The Public Service staff recommended three alternate routes. Two routes have no impact on proposals for the Jackson area. The third alternative pushed the proposed pipeline route farther east, past the junction of M-52 and M-36 near Stockbridge, before turning north.

An administrative law judge is expected to submit a proposal to the Public Service Commission for a decision by the end of September.

The commission is expected to issue a ruling in December.

The delay may be bad news for Wolverine, but it's the kind of pipeline oversight that makes Gerald Surbrook sleep a little easier.

"They're are going to be watched closer now," after the recent spills and disasters, the Rives Township farmer said.

"My gut feeling is that it's going to be safer now."

- Reach reporter Linda Stiles at jcpnews@citpat.com or 768-4918.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), September 17, 2000


I can see a big return to the Not In My Neighborhood clamor as citizens eveywhere take up the battle cry against Big Pipelines.

-- Uncle Fred (dogboy45@bigfoot.com), September 17, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ