The owner of the pipeline that blew up twice before leaking again in 2010 relied on aerial inspections from which the pipeline or its immediate surroundings weren’t even visible, according to federal regulators.
Enterprise Products Partners was fined more than $67,000 by the federal Department of Transportation during the aftermath of the 2010 rupture that forced the evacuation of two dozen residents in southern Schoharie County.
The DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last month closed out the case of the Aug. 27, 2010, leak in the 50-year-old pipeline, which required about $1.8 million worth of repairs.
The Corrective Action Order case did not yield any penalties.
But according to the DOT, the investigation that ensued following the break along Keyserkill Road turned up five separate violations and prompted a total of $67,400 in civil penalties.
The violations relate to pipeline inspections, accident reports, operating pressure, pipe welding and safety practices.
•Unsafe practices were cited when regulators lodged a $12,500 penalty because inspectors showed up to find welders installing a valve with two fire extinguishers handy — and both of those fire extinguishers were empty, according to a final order issued in October of 2012.
Repairs under way at the time were halted until charged fire extinguishers were brought to the scene.
•The company had to pay another $12,500 after regulators determined six months lapsed before it told the federal agency the cause of the 2010 pipeline break, which spewed an estimated 3,283 barrels of gas. Pipeline companies have to update accident reports within 30 days when they learn more information than was originally reported.
The pipeline argued it had a different operator identification number and couldn’t get into the system to update its report with findings of a laboratory analysis that pinned the leak on a stress corrosion crack.
•The DOT ordered a reduction in operating pressure inside the pipe down to 600 pounds per square-inch gauge a month after the leak, and the pressure peaked at 675 psig, a violation that cost the company $7,500.
•Welders were installing a new valve when inspectors found another issue that cost $16,200 in penalties: According to the Final Order, clamps holding the pipe together during welding have to stay there until the weld is halfway done. The clamps were pulled early, in violation of the company’s manual for operations, maintenance and emergencies, according to the PHMSA.
The federal agency representative on the scene ordered an immediate inspection and the weld had to be cut out altogether and redone.
•The final $18,700 penalty was lodged due to the company’s inability to see the pipeline and adjacent areas during its aerial inspections.
The DOT determined inspections of the pipeline via helicopter were inadequate because of overgrown conditions, vegetation and tree canopy that obscured any view of the sections where the pipeline ruptured in 2010.
The aerial inspections were also of little use where the pipe crosses state Route 30 near Dave Brown Mountain Road, near where the pipeline crosses beneath the West Kill downstream of Keyserkill Road, and in two other sections, according to the Final Order.
The pipeline was unearthed by Tropical Storm Irene, leading the company to bury the pipeline about 50 feet deep beneath the West Kill and Schoharie Creeks.
The pipe killed two people when it exploded in 1990, leveling the hamlet of North Blenheim, then it blew up again near the border with Schoharie County in Delaware County in 2004, destroying a home. The leak in 2010 forced the evacuation of a three-mile area in Gilboa.
In a statement provided via email Monday, Jeannie Shiffer, director of PHMSA’s Office of Governmental, International and Public Affairs, said:
“Safety is our top priority. The inspectors assigned to our Eastern Region Office and our partners at the New York State Public Service Commission work diligently to enforce compliance with pipeline safety standards in Schoharie County and beyond.”