Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Ohio/PA Train Derailment, Pipeline Explosions, Uncontrolled Releases Put Spotlight On Public Health, Safety Threats Posed By Petrochemical, Natural Gas Industrial And Pipeline Infrastructure In PA

The February 3 explosions, fire and evaluation caused by the derailment of 50 tank cars carrying vinyl chloride and other hazardous petrochemicals in East Palestine, Ohio near the Pennsylvania border is only the latest example of the public health and safety threats posed by the chemical and natural gas industries infrastructure in Pennsylvania.

The threats start at a basic level.

For example, since June, dozens of families were without clean drinking water as a result of a “frack-out” of a shale gas well in Greene County. Read more here

In July, a 24-inch natural gas pipeline ruptured in McKean County causing a wildfire and the declaration of a force majeure by the Tennessee Gas Transmission Company affecting natural gas supplies in several states.  Read more here.

In September, environmental groups expressed concerns about Delaware River Basin Commission approval of an LNG natural gas export terminal along the Delaware River in New Jersey that would receive their LNG on rail and truck shipments from a proposed LNG plant in Bradford County. Read more hereRead more here.

In November, uncontrolled venting of natural gas from the Equitrans Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir over 14 days in Cambria County resulted in the release of an estimated 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas from the facility.  Read more here.

DEP ordered a “top to bottom” review of how it regulates gas storage areas and ordered the company to upgrade or plug the 1960s era conventional natural gas wells that service the storage area.  Read more here.

In December, an explosion at the natural gas liquids processing plant in Washington County resulted in a fire and uncontrolled release of ethane and other chemical vapors that burned for at least 9.5 hours.

DEP has not yet released the results of its investigation of the incident. Read more here.

In a guest essay, Cat (Cathy) Lodge, a resident near the Washington County natural gas plant that exploded, describes how county and state emergency officials need to take more seriously the safety and health threats posed by natural gas industry infrastructure.  Read more here.

Also in December, DEP issued its first notices of violation to the Shell Petrochemical Plant in Beaver County for violating air pollution standards. Natural gas flaring at the plant as a result of malfunctions caused the sky to turn orange, reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s industrial past.  Read more here.

Pipeline companies alone have been fined over $70 million for environmental and safety violations related to incidents like the 2018 explosion of the brand new Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County and the construction of the Mariner East natural gas liquids pipelines running across the entire state.  Read more here.

Unresolved flooding and property damage from Mariner East Pipeline construction on the homes of people like Navy Veterans Patrick and Helen Robinson in Indiana County occur all along its route.  Read more here.

In Cambria County a family is suing after three years of trying to get the company to fix damage to their home, well and septic system from Mariner East construction.  Read more here. 

The FracTracker Alliance just released an update to its pipeline accidents database that shows the number of incidents has not slowed down in Pennsylvania and other states.  Read more here.

The ongoing pollution episodes caused by pipeline and water withdrawal construction in the Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek Watershed in Lycoming County occur all over the state.  Read more here.

Natural gas and hazardous liquids pipeline companies are not required to carry environmental or liability insurance to pay for the damages they cause from their construction or operations, unlike every home and vehicle owner.  Read more here.

State laws setting penalties and other requirements are so weak, these companies simply shrug off the fines and keep violating.  Read more here.

60 years of fracking and 20 years of shale gas development in Pennsylvania and studies of those operations for their health and environmental threats and impacts in recent years have developed a growing body of information on the negative impacts this industry’s infrastructure can have from well sites to our individual homes.  Read more here.

Groups like the Environmental Health Project, League of Women Voters and the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health have been documenting the health impacts from oil and gas development for the last 15 years.  Read more hereRead more hereRead more here.

The state Department of Health and the University of Pittsburgh have a study underway to determine if there is a link between natural gas development and rare childhood cancers in Southwest Pennsylvania.  Read more here.

A Washington County family is suing a shale gas drilling company for violating the terms of their lease by endangering their health, contaminating their water supply and not protecting their land.  Read more here.

In December, DEP completed its first-ever review of how well the conventional oil and gas industry complies with environmental laws and regulations and concluded,“A significant change in the culture of non-compliance as an acceptable norm in the conventional oil and gas industry will need to occur before meaningful improvement can happen.”  Read more here.

The conventional drilling industry continues to abandon oil and gas wells and the practice of illegally dumping of conventional wastewater on roads. Read more here

Both unconventional and conventional operators are creating hundreds of new brownfield sites with soil and water contamination as they stain the landscape with well drilling and other related industrial operations. Read more here.

There have been lots of studies recommending improvements-- like the 2015 Assessment of Crude Oil Rail Safety Issues and the 2016 Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force Report-- and calls for updating the state’s environmental and safety laws related to pipelines and oil and gas development, but somehow it never gets done.

The reaction of some Senate and House politicians and the natural gas industry so far this year? They want to unleash the industry with faster permit reviews, automatic permit approvals and limiting public review of permits. Read more here. Read more here.

Perhaps with a new Governor and new politics in Harrisburg, some of these critical issues will get addressed.

Ohio/PA Train Derailment

The Pittsburgh-based Environmental Health Project issued this statement on the derailment.

Approximately 50 Norfolk Southern freight train cars derailed and caught fire while traveling through East Palestine, Ohio, at about 9:00 p.m. on Friday, February 3. 

The following day, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of a one-mile zone around the crash site, which lies approximately 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA.  

Officials of the National Transportation Safety Board reported that 20 of the train’s cars were carrying hazardous materials, with 14 of them transporting vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is used to make the hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, such as PVC.  

A controlled vent and burn of toxic chemicals took place on February 6 to reduce the risk of a catastrophic explosion. 

Five days later, the fire has continued to burn. It is not yet known when residents will be permitted to return to the area. [Residents were able to return February 8.]

Train derailments have become commonplace in the region. At least seven other major derailments have occurred in the Southwestern Pennsylvania/Western Ohio area over the past five years. 

According to the Federal Rail Administration, at least one train “slips off” the tracks every day in the United States.  

EHP’s Statement 

Alison L. Steele, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Project, said this about the train derailment--

“Whenever highly toxic, highly flammable chemicals intersect with human populations, there can be lethal consequences. The transportation of these chemicals—whether by train, truck, pipeline, or barge—always raises the risk that accidents will happen and leaks will occur.  

“These toxic emissions can threaten public health not only in the immediate vicinity but for many miles away, particularly downwind. 

“Breathing high levels of vinyl chloride, for example, can cause unconsciousness or death. Short-term exposure can lead to dizziness and sleepiness. Additionally, as greenhouse gases, many emitted substances contribute heavily to climate warming. 

“While accidents get immediate attention in the news, toxic emissions that contaminate air, water, and soil can harm people for years afterwards, causing any number of health issues, including asthma, heart complications, birth defects, and cancer, among others. 

“Vinyl chloride in particular is associated with increased risk of cancer in the liver, brain, lungs, and blood, according to the National Cancer Institute

Government agencies must hold transporters to strict standards of operation in order to reduce the likelihood of potentially tragic and chronic health outcomes. 

“This is especially true in Southwestern Pennsylvania and throughout Appalachia, where existing industry relies heavily on rail for transporting toxic chemicals and where many policymakers are currently promoting the creation of petrochemical and hydrogen hubs.  

“By way of example, the recently started Shell ethylene cracker plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, requires large quantities of climate-warming methane gas as well as significant amounts of toxic chemicals to make plastics. 

“Last fall, in just two months of operation, the plant exceeded yearly state emissions limits, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued the plant a notice of violation. 

“The plant is the second largest emitter of volatile organic chemicals in the state. These operating emissions, combined with the very real threat of accidental spills and leaks from the transportation of raw materials, increase the risk of public health impacts.  

“EHP encourages all residents to follow local and state precautions if they are living in areas impacted by this train derailment. If individuals are concerned about health impacts, they should reach out to a trusted healthcare professional. 

More information on how to protect your health from toxic emissions can be found on our website.  

For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the  Environmental Health Project website or follow them on Facebook or TwitterClick Here to sign up for regular updates.

Visit DEP’s Ohio Train Derailment alert on its website.


-- Post-Gazette: Train Derailment Near PA Border Causes Massive Fire, Evacuations In Ohio [Vinyl Chloride Used In Making PVC Plastics Involved]

-- WTAE: Officials Issue One  Mile Mandatory Evacuation Order Around Ohio Train Derailment, Including Parts Of Beaver County 

-- TribLive/AP: Evacuations Urged In Ohio Town As Train Wreck Smolders 

-- WTAE: State Of Emergency Continues In Ohio After Train Derailment

-- AP: Toxic Gases Connected To Ohio/PA Train Derailment Cause Concern

-- Post-Gazette: ‘We’re Scared For Our Kids, Our House, Everything’: A Village Reels After Train Derailment Fire 

-- Post-Gazette: 2 Beaver County School Districts Dismiss Early Over Concerns At Possible Explosion At Trail Derailment Site

-- TribLive/AP: Crews Release Toxic Chemicals From Derailed Train Tank Cars Close To Ohio/PA Border

-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak, Others: Beaver County Watches Column Of Black Smoke As Crews Release Chemicals From Ohio Train Derailment Site 

-- Beaver Times: Not Time To Return: Crews Monitoring Ohio/PA Train Derailment Say Evacuation Order Still Active

-- AP: Residents Worry About Going Home, Toxic Gas From Ohio/PA Train Derailment 

-- WTAE: Residents Worry About Going Home, Toxic Gas From Ohio/PA Train Derailment [Video Of Detonations]

-- AP: Residents Can Return After Air Deemed Safe From Train Derailment

-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak: Video Showing A Train Axle On Fire 20 Miles Before Ohio Train Derailment Raises Questions About Alert Timing

-- AP: Lawsuit Seeks Medical Testing After Toxic Ohio/PA Train Derailment

-- TribLive: Ohio Residents Return Home, Clean Up A Week After Train Derailment

-- Post-Gazette: Most Ohio Residents Are Home, But What Does The Future Hold After The Train Derailment And Fire?

NewsClips - Derailment Follow Up

-- AP: Fiery Ohio Train Derailment Raises Railroad Safety Questions

-- Environmental Health News: After 8th Major Train Derailment In The Greater Pittsburgh Area In 5 Years, Advocates Demand Better Protections

-- WESA: Pittsburgh Advocates Say A Train Derailment Like The One In Ohio Could Be Catastrophic In City

-- PA Capital-Star: Advocates Call For Tighter Regulations After Ohio/PA Train Explosion

-- The Guardian: Ohio/PA Catastrophe Is ‘Wake-Up Call’ To Dangers Of Deadly Train Derailments

-- Inquirer - Frank Kummer: What If A Train Derailment Like Ohio’s Happened In Philly?

-- Inquirer: Ohio Train Derailment Involves Same Chemical Released In Philly Region A Decade Ago

-- Beaver Times: Lawsuit Filed Against Norfolks Southern By Ohio Residents Forced To Evacuate Due To Train Derailment

-- Williamsport Sun: Sen. Yaw Says Energy Infrastructure Permits Should Be Automatically Approved If Agencies Don’t Review Them In Time

-- Post-Gazette Editorial: Ohio Derailment Highlights Rail Cargo Risk

-- Scranton Times Editorial: Train Wreck Highlights Regulatory Derailment

-- TribLive Editorial: Government And Media Need To Serve The People

PA DEP Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Feb. 4 to Feb. 10 - 12 NOVs For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - Feb. 11  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posts 57 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In Feb. 11 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Compliance Reports:

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industry Has Record Year: Cost, Criminal Convictions Up; $3.1 Million In Penalties Collected; Record Number Of Violations Issued; Major Compliance Issues Uncovered; Evidence Of Health Impacts Mounts  [PaEN]

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Industrial Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight [PaEN]

-- EDF: Conventional Gas Wells In Allegheny National Forest Leaked Over 6 Billion Cubic Feet Of Natural Gas In 2019; Conventional Operators Seek To Block Methane Limits  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Regulatory Relief?

-- Natural Gas Industry, Senate Republicans Launch Effort To Unleash The Industry, Reduce Regulation, Call For Automatic Approval Of Permits, Limit Public Comments  [PaEN] 

-- Natural Gas Industry Tells House They Want Faster Permit Reviews, But Didn’t Say They Don’t Use 40% Of The Well Permits They Get From DEP; Industry Practices Keep Energy Prices High   [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- Natural Gas Industry Tells House They Want Faster Permit Reviews, But Didn’t Say They Don’t Use 40% Of The Well Permits They Get From DEP; Industry Practices Keep Energy Prices High   [PaEN]

-- DCED Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Advisory Council Feb. 16 Meeting Agenda Includes Discussion Of Poor Compliance Record Of Industry, Status Of Regulations Updates, Challenge To VOC/Methane Regs  [PaEN]

-- Ohio/PA Train Derailment, Pipeline Explosions, Uncontrolled Releases Put Spotlight On Public Health, Safety Threats Posed By Petrochemical, Natural Gas Industrial And Pipeline Infrastructure In PA [PaEN]

-- Inside Climate News: DEP Took 9 Days To Inspect Natural Gas Liquids Plant That Caught Fire On Christmas Day In Washington County [PaEN]

-- Inside Climate News - Jon Hurdle: PA Environmental Officials Took 9 Days To Inspect Natural Gas Liquids Plant That Caught Fire On Christmas Day In Washington County

-- DEP Citizens Advisory Council To Hear Updates From Oil & Gas, Abandoned Mine Reclamation Programs Feb. 14  [PaEN]

-- Marcellus Drilling News: Shale Gas Companies Play ‘Dirty Pool’ By Reactivating Expired Leases By Claiming They Are Part Of Back-dated Pooling Declarations  [PaEN]

-- Senate Environmental, Consumer Protection Committees To Hold Feb. 27 Hearing On Grid Reliability And Winter Storm Elliot  [PaEN]

-- PUC Approves 48.9% Increase In Natural Gas Charges By Leatherstocking Gas Company In Susquehanna & Bradford Counties [The Heart Of Shale Gas Drilling In PA]  [PaEN]

-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak: As More Utility Customers Struggle To Pay Their Bills, More Are Also Cut Off For Nonpayment  [Cost Increases Due To Natural Gas Price Spikes]

-- PA Physicians For Social Responsibility Host Feb. 22 Webinar On Radioactive Contaminants From PA Oil And Gas Operations  [PaEN]

-- Better Path Coalition To Host Feb. 22 Webinar On How Green Is Blue Hydrogen? Made From Natural Gas  [PaEN]

[Posted: February 8, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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