Are pipelines in Crook County safe?
Media stories lead us to fear that pipelines endanger our safety and the environment. But we hear very few facts. The safety statistics in Wyoming — from the most objective and official sources available — provide a very different picture.
Pipelines move unimaginable amounts of natural gas, oil and other liquids to meet our country’s energy needs. The amount running through a single modest pipeline (150,000 barrels a day) would take a constant line of 750 tanker trucks a day, loading and moving out every 2 minutes around-the-clock. Few people would want trucks constantly driving through their communities, with the associated impacts of noise, exhaust, vehicular accidents, waste of fossil fuels, and wear-and-tear to the roadways! And there are 2.6 million miles of pipelines throughout the country. When the Dept of Transportation, Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) says pipelines are the safest, cleanest and most cost-effective and practical way to move these liquids compared to any other form of transportation, it’s the truth.
Incidences are sensationalized in the news, but PHMSA translated nationwide pipeline spills into household terms: less than one teaspoon of oil is spilled per thousand barrel-miles, clearly not the pollution issue that some depict. Most of us have probably spilled more than that changing the oil in our truck! We’re also rarely told that companies later recover much of spills.
In all of Wyoming: over the past decade, an annual average of only 4 significant pipeline incidences have occurred, with a net 437 barrels lost in spills. To put that amount into perspective, if all of the spillage loss occurred in just a single modest pipeline (moving 150,000 barrels/day or 54.75 million barrels/year) it would be 0.0008% of the total volume of oil or gas moving through the pipeline. There are 18,099 miles of pipelines in the state, making the percentage lost in each pipeline even less!
And here in Crook County: There has not been a single pipeline incidence in the past decade (the longest available statistic).
Despite fearmongering over groundwater contamination, according to the PHMSA Office of Pipeline Safety, Western Division, there has not been a single known case of groundwater contamination from pipelines in the entire state of Wyoming in the past decade (the longest available statistic). Obviously, there’s also no reasoned imminent danger in Crook County.
Pipelines are safer than ever, contrary to media-driven perceptions of increasing danger. According to the PHSMA, pipeline incidents have dropped 10% every three years over the past quarter century, with time-critical incidents down 36% just in the past ten years. “Contrary to popular perceptions,” reported environmental scientist Dagmar Schmidt Edkin, Ph.D., “[based on EPA data] over the past 30 years, the annual number of pipeline spills has decreased by 500%” and the amounts spilled have also dropped, with “90% of spills under 1,000 gallons.”
The industry has advanced the technology of materials, design and procedures in construction, maintenance, corrosion protection, testing and monitoring of pipelines to enhance pipeline safety. Companies also work under extensive regulations in operating and maintaining pipelines, including locating pipelines to have the least impact on people and the environment, and working with local and regional emergency personnel to coordinate responses to abnormal conditions or emergencies should they ever occur.
Pipeline safety is already heavily regulated by federal and state agencies, which also set and enforce comprehensive safety standards (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49:190-199 and Wyoming statutes Title 37). Federally, those agencies are the PHMSA and its Office of Pipeline Safety, which also extensively coordinate with nearly a dozen other federal agencies. In Wyoming, the Wyoming Public Service Commission, under the OPS western regional office, also inspects, monitors and enforces pipeline safety regulations for pipeline operators in Wyoming.
Pipeline safety is no accident and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. Most of us realize that, as we know someone working in the oil and gas industry, with over 21,000 employees in Wyoming. I also had a chance to see for myself when I worked for a few years at a gas pipeline company. I was amazed how intensely and personally every employee felt accountable for the safety of the public. The pipelines were in the same communities that their own families, children, friends and neighbors lived. They were genuine, caring people and extensively trained professionals, many with engineering, environmental, geology and science degrees. Safety was a focus in everything and they worked hard not just to comply with the tens of thousands of pages of federal and state pipeline regulations, but to surpass them. Every day, they performed high-tech preventive maintenance, including pipeline integrity programs and cathodic protection to protect pipes from corrosion, and sophisticated around-the-clock monitoring. Long hours and mountains of resources were also devoted to studying where to locate pipelines so they’d have the least impact on people, the environment, and even the preservation of archeological sites.
Establishing public policy demands weighing actual risks to public safety with benefits a policy will bring, based on the soundest evidence available. There are risks to everything in life, but common sense has to prevail or we wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning! We cannot eliminate all risks and be protected from every remote “what-if” possibility. It’s important to follow evidence and reasoned risk assessments. The potential harm to the community of a policy also has to be part of the equation.
With no imminent risks to public safety in Crook County, a phenomenal pipeline safety record, and federal and state coordinated regulations already in place, why is Crook County taking the unusual step of considering its own pipeline policy with fees, taxes, requirements and regulations that go beyond federal and state statutes?
When I actually read the proposed policy, I was surprised to discover it isn’t just about simplifying a pipeline permitting process. It duplicates existing regulations, while placing complicated and burdensome, costly and impossible new mandates on pipeline companies, with layers of reporting, hearings, testing, licensing and permits, fees, lengthy approval requirements, and mandates throughout the life of a pipeline, some that are even against industry and environmental standards. It leaves open unsettling potential for conflicts of interest in purchasing, hiring, vendors and approvals. Many of the mandates, such as conducting tests of all waterways within ½ mile of a pipeline before pipeline construction are not reasoned. While this policy will do little to improve public safety, I think it will delay and deter any pipeline development in Crook County.
It’s been reported that reception to pipeline projects has been “very positive” in Wyoming and Crook County and 98% of landowners have had no problem with pipeline easement agreements to date. Clearly, industry efforts to work with landowners has been effective. Why are the same handful of people— most with groups formed outside Crook County or not even in Wyoming — the upset people repeatedly profiled in news stories?
What will this policy cost our community in lost jobs, lost business revenue, and more expensive energy costs down the road?
Evidence shows that existing engineering practices and government regulations are keeping us safe. We can trust the existing engineering and pipeline professionals and government agencies devoted full-time to pipeline safety. There is no evidence this policy is necessary or the right thing to do for our community.
Sandy Edgington, BSN
As many of you are aware Larry Schommer has left our employment. Larry did a good job for the city and will be missed. We wish him good luck in his future endeavors.
We were caught off guard by the last storm and had several employees gone on vacation. We are lucky because Keith Fowler and Bob Queen came into help us with snow and limb removal. We had also scheduled some asphalt work and Bum Mollenbrink helped us prepare for that. We also received an offer from Ralph Goodson to run our water plant. I was taken aback by the outpouring of support.
Last weekend, Sacrison Paving of Whitewood came in and finished paving some road crossings, parking areas, and some alley paving for individuals. It is nice to have this completed before winter arrives.
Our engineers, Trihydro Corporation, and Timberline Services are working out a change order to complete the transfer station. We are confident that we can reach a resolution that will work well for all of the parties. The building problems have been repaired and now we need to hammer out the financial details as well the changes to accommodate the scale and additional dirt work.
We put the water tank on hold until spring because we sent out sixteen bid packets, had just six contractors at the pre-bid meeting, and only received one bid. It is my belief that there was a mistake in the timeframe that limited the amount of bidders. Triydro and Wyoming Water Development have reviewed the engineer’s estimate and are confident there is not a mistake in the unit prices. We will re-bid it this spring and hopefully have it on line for next summer.
We have been advised that we need to put water taps on all of the wells in the Cole Well Field so that we can make sure our bad water samples weren’t the result of surface water leaking through the well casing. I have the staff investigating the cost of the taps and potentially adding individual check valves at each well.
We have invited all the Mayors, Councilmen, and the County Commissioners from Crook County to City Hall on Wednesday the 30th to see a presentation on Capital Facilities Tax. The sixth-cent expired earlier this fall and had helped us complete infrastructure projects. The communities that pass this tax are able to complete projects without passing the costs off in higher rates for services to the residents.
The Croell project is under way however the weather has slowed progress.
Paul Brooks, Mayor