Falcon Pipeline drawing heat, accusations of misconduct
This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.
HARRISON COUNTY – Shell’s Falcon Pipeline, which began construction in 2019 places Harrison County in the center of more action, as if the fracking industry wasn’t enough. The pipeline begins specifically around Scio and Cadiz where it then breaks off and heads east across the northern panhandle of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
Last year it was discovered that an official for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Secretary Patrick McDonnell, wrote a letter addressed to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that they had received “credible information that sections of Shell’s Falcon Pipeline project in western PA, developed for the transportation of ethane liquid, may have been constructed with defective corrosion coating protection.”
Last Tuesday People Over Petro Coalition (POPCO) held a Zoom meeting with numerous officials including FracTracker Alliance, landowners, Clean Air Council, Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, Government Accountability Project and the Center for Coalfield Justice.
This coalition of concerned citizens and agencies also feel that Shell has not been completely upfront about public safety and accuses Shell of cover-ups, according to FracTracker Alliance, as provided by POPCO. The pipeline not only travels under the Ohio River but POPCO’s concern is the affect it may have on the water reserves in Tappan Lake as it serves the village of Cadiz.
“The planned pipeline route passes through the corridor management zone determined for the village of Cadiz’ Tappan Lake intake. The corridor management zone is the area along each bank of the reservoir, Clear Fork and Standingstone Fork upstream of the reservoir and tributaries to these streams and the reservoir,” according to an inter-office memo from Ohio EPA. “This area is a priority for managing potential sources of contamination. Cadiz’ Tappan Lake intake is located approximately 6.5 river miles from the Clear Fork crossing.”
The DEP described the layout of the pipeline as this: “A separate segment of the pipeline would connect a MarkWest facility in Cadiz, Ohio and the Utica East Ohio plant in Scio, Ohio to the petrochemical complex in Beaver County. In total, approximately 45.5 miles of pipeline would be located in Pennsylvania…” with another 10.8 miles stretching from Cadiz to Scio. Other allegations involving the 97.5 mile pipeline include “witnesses with ‘first-hand knowledge of bad corrosion coatings, falsification of records and reports, retaliatory firings and other actions by Shell,’” according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story (Anya Litvak) dated March 17, 2021.
Erica Jackson of FracTracker Alliance explained the Falcon Pipeline is to carry ethane where it would be broken down to ethylene and ultimately prepped for normal plastic products at the Monaca cracker plant. She also spoke about the affects of ethane calling it more dangerous than methane.
“Ethane is heavier than air and it pools in low lying areas, which makes it easier for explosions to happen,” she said. Then she touched on a recent letter discovered that was addressed to Brook Lenker, executive director of FracTracker Alliance (May 4, 2021) by PHMSA.
“This was a pretty shocking letter to read,” Jackson told the audience after noting the allegations of PHMSA “basically not doing its job.” In its response, Acting Administrator Tristan Brown addressed the issue of defective pipeline coatings extensively. She said a 2019 investigation into inadvertent returns, fell “outside of PHMSA’s regulatory authority.” Regarding ineffective coating PHMSA could not substantiate those allegations of a safety issue “or non-compliance existed.” Brown said damage could be seen to an overcoat but no damage to the primary coating.
She also said an investigation looked into falsified records “but did not find any evidence supporting this allegation.” Brown did say they were aware of “at least one individual” that had been fired by Shell Pipeline Company.
Jackson said when the story broke last month Shell’s Falcon Pipeline operations were already under investigation by PHMSA and Pennsylvania’s attorney general’s office.
“Despite the fact that the pipeline crosses West Virginia and Ohio, it doesn’t look like those agencies have really been involved in this, which is a little concerning,” Jackson stated.
“Construction of the Falcon pipeline is responsible for the spilling of over 250,000 gallons of drilling fluid in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the pipeline is not even operational yet,” said Sarah Martic, campaign director for the Center for Coalfield Justice in a prepared statement. “The Falcon poses a risk to the watershed of the Ohio River, the drinking water source of over 5-million people and threatens fragile surrounding ecosystems.”
According to the Post-Gazette article a spokesman for Shell Pipeline repeated that three on-site audits found no issues with installed coatings. Completed inspections and tests by Shell were also shared with PHMSA.
“The company also stressed that it went beyond requirements on the project by using thicker pipe, burying it a foot deeper than federally mandated, and installing more emergency shutoff valves than necessary,” according to the article.
“We believe we have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to safe construction and operations through the robust design and installation of the Falcon Pipeline,” the company said as quoted by the Post-Gazette.
POPCO’s petition is calling for PHMSA to hold a formal public hearing “to provide greater transparency.” The pipeline is scheduled to begin operations this year.