Hundreds clean up site of deadly Baltimore explosion as neighbors raise funds for families in need


August 16, 2020


Hundreds of Baltimore City residents, neighbors across the county line and others gathered Sunday afternoon to stage a cleanup effort and sidewalk sale to support survivors of last Monday’s gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore that killed two and injured seven.

Dozens of volunteers in neon green vests spread out on the lawns of boarded-up homes along Labyrinth Road and the alley behind the leveled homes, as they shoveled dirt and packed leftover debris into black trash bags.

A Baltimore Police Department cruiser blocked off that part of Reisterstown Station, as a Red Cross vehicle made its way up and down the narrow road, passing out water and snacks. Crew members continued to remove debris from the explosion site, with metal fencing surrounding the grounds of the leveled homes.

Nancy Diaz, a California resident, was in Baltimore for a few weeks to tend to a family situation when the explosion occurred. The 62-year-old decided to lend a hand.

“I was born to serve,” said Diaz, who used to work for the Red Cross and assisted in relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. “This has been what I love to do. I just want to be hands of love and light, and that’s what my spirit is.”

Just a few houses from the explosion, Stephanie Hall stood on her front porch with her sister, Vera Skinner, as two volunteers searched her shrub for debris. Hall, a 17-year resident, had been sleeping when the blast went off just before 10 a.m.

She said she thought it was a “really bad crash,” before going outside to see the severity of the situation. Almost a week after the explosion, Hall was still taken aback by how many homes were affected.

The nonprofit Hadassah of Greater Baltimore on Sunday held a sidewalk sale in Pikesville on Reisterstown Road, with a portion of the proceeds set to go to survivors of the explosion.

Customers sorted through racks of inexpensive clothing, bags and jewelry outside the organization’s resale store, which remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barbara Fink, co-president of the organization, said the store used to be located on Falstaff Road, just blocks from the explosion site, and called the neighborhood “a great part of the community.”

“We knew we had to do something. … The way [the sale] is going, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again,” Fink said.

The two events were a continuation of ways the community has banded together in the aftermath of the explosion. Lonnie Herriott, 61, and Joseph Graham, 20, were the two people found dead after the blast. Family and friends gathered Saturday for a candlelight vigil to remember Graham, a Morgan State University student. Organizers with CASA are planning another vigil Monday night.

The cause of the blast is undetermined and continues to be investigated.

The gas explosion that killed two people in Northwest Baltimore was caught on a RING.com camera footage on Labyrinth Road. (Video courtesy of Dominique Bass)
Sitting in a parked Baltimore City Fire Department utility terrain vehicle, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said he thought to organize the cleanup effort after surveying the debris.

Schleifer, who represents District 5, said several elderly residents live on Labyrinth Road, and he wanted to relieve them of additional work after the traumatic blast. What started as 50 volunteers with Suburban Orthodox Synagogue grew to around 400 people joining in on the effort, Schleifer said.

“Hopefully, we can start rebuilding and try to get back to normal as much as possible. … Where people see the rubble and destruction, I see building blocks,” he said.


Death Toll Rises to 2 People from Baltimore Gas Explosion

Photo: Julio Cortez/Associated Press


August 11, 2020


BALTIMORE (AP) — Two people are now confirmed dead following a natural gas explosion that destroyed three row houses in Baltimore and sent seven people to the hospital, authorities said Tuesday.

A man was pulled from the debris shortly before 1 a.m. Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams said at a morning news conference.

Family members identified him as Joseph Graham, 20, a student at Morgan State University who had attended a party at one of the row homes that was destroyed.

Sunshine Evans told WMAR-TV that Graham, her nephew, was in the home with two other of her family members when the structure collapsed. They were rushed to the hospital, she said.

Isaac Graham, an uncle of Joseph Graham, had told The Baltimore Sun on Monday that his nephew attended a party with one of his best friends and decided to spend the night. He said his nephew was a “good kid” who was studying at Morgan State and recently launched his own clothing line.

Ty’lor Schnella, a friend of Graham’s, told the newspaper that he “was always the one that kept everyone uplifted, kept your spirits high.”

Friends were in disbelief over his death.

“Everyone was like, ‘Not Joseph.’ I would never think something like this could happen to him,” Schnella said.

Morgan State said in a statement that Graham was a rising sophomore pursuing an electrical engineering degree. The university said it mourns “the tragic loss of life as a result of this calamitous event and offer our deepest sympathies to the Graham family.”

Meanwhile, authorities have not identified a woman who was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after Monday morning’s explosion. Seven others were hospitalized, five in critical condition, said Adams, the fire department spokeswoman. The conditions of the other two were still being determined, she said.

More than 200 people in the neighborhood were affected by the blast, and about 30 have utilized temporary shelter since the explosion, she said.

The natural gas explosion leveled three row houses and ripped open a fourth, trapping people in the debris and scattering shards of glass and other rubble over the northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Reisterstown Station. Dozens of firefighters converged on the scene to free the injured.

“It’s a disaster. It’s a mess. It’s unbelievable,” said Diane Glover, who lives across the street. Her windows where shattered and her front door was blown open.

The exact cause remains unknown, and the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. appealed for patience as they investigate. No gas odors were reported before the explosion, and BGE did not receive any recent gas odor calls from the block of homes that were damaged, the utility said in a statement late Monday.

BGE also said it last inspected the area’s gas mains and services in June and July of 2019 and no leaks were found.

BGE said in a statement on Tuesday that it was providing information to the Baltimore Fire Department and other investigators regarding “the flows of gas and electricity on customer-owned equipment.”

The Baltimore Sun reported last year that dangerous gas leaks have become much more frequent, with nearly two dozen discovered each day on average, according to the utility’s reports to federal authorities. BGE has said it has thousands of miles of obsolete pipes that need to be replaced, an effort that would cost nearly $1 billion and take two decades, the newspaper said.

BGE asked the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve a new gas system infrastructure and a cost recovery mechanism in late 2017 to pay for upgrades.

“Founded in 1816, BGE is the oldest gas distribution company in the nation. Like many older gas systems, a larger portion of its gas main and services infrastructure consists of cast iron and bare steel – materials that are obsolete and susceptible to failure with age,” the PSC wrote in a 2018 order approving a modernization plan.

This area’s gas infrastructure was installed in the early 1960s. When aging pipes fail, they tend to make headlines. Last year, a gas explosion ripped the façade off a Maryland office complex in Columbia, affecting more than 20 businesses. No one was injured in the explosion early on a Sunday morning. In 2016, a gas main break forced the evacuation of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse. Under Armour Inc. had to evacuate its Baltimore office after a gas main break in 2012.


This story has been corrected to show that Joseph Graham was a rising sophomore at Morgan State University, not a rising junior.


Associated Press contributors include Mike Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Brian Witte in Annapolis, and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia.


Sunoco may be forced to meet with county under initial ruling in Baker’s pipeline safety case

Wilmer Baker’s home in Lower Frankford Township is within the 1,000-foot safety radius of the Mariner East pipeline route. (Photo by Jason Malmont, The Sentinel)

By Zack Hoopes, The Sentinel
Dec 23, 2019 


A ruling issued Wednesday in Wilmer Baker’s case against Sunoco Pipeline gives the Cumberland County resident a partial victory in his effort to get the Mariner East pipeline operator to respond to his safety concerns.

The ruling was issued by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes, who heard the case on behalf of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, under whose jurisdiction Sunoco falls.

The ruling is an initial decision, and the PUC could modify the advisory order at a subsequent commission meeting pursuant to the evidence and legal statutes Barnes outlined in her ruling.

Barnes sides with Baker when it comes to his claims about Sunoco’s inadequate safety outreach, writing that Baker succeeding in “showing that [Sunoco’s] public awareness outreach in Cumberland County is not meeting regulatory requirements.”

“I consider this a victory that she’s publicly acknowledging there are problems,” Baker told The Sentinel on Friday..

In an email, Lisa Coleman, spokesperson for Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer, said the company is “currently processing the information in the initial decision to determine how it relates to our public awareness programs that are in place, including those in Cumberland County.”

Otherwise, Barnes’ opinion finds that Baker’s claims regarding the origin and quality of the steel used in the Mariner East builds are either unfounded or out of the PUC’s legal jurisdiction.

Barnes’ ruling would require Sunoco meet with the Lower Frankford Township supervisors and the Cumberland County commissioners within 30 days to schedule public awareness and education meetings.

Sunoco’s abrupt cancellation of a Lower Frankford Township meeting last year touched off some public sparring with the county commissioners over Sunoco’s apparent reluctance to conduct any meetings or training beyond what the county described as a “boiler-plate” response.

“It appears Judge Barnes has deliberately and forcefully laid out the case for greater transparency from Sunoco,” Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler said. “I think the judge’s preliminary decision sides with the position taken by the county.”

Under Barnes’ ruling, the pipeline operator would also be required to meet with county public safety officials within 30 days to discuss additional training or communication that the county may desire.

Sunoco will also have to submit to the PUC a written plan to improve certain deficiencies in its public awareness and emergency training programs within 90 days and will need to submit an audit of such programs within six months.


Baker’s complaint before the PUC centers on the Mariner East pipelines, which transport liquefied gas from hydrofracking sites in western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook processing facility in Philadelphia.

Sunoco’s right-of-way now houses three lines: Mariner East I, a line originally built in 1931 and recently repurposed for fracking liquids, as well as the newly built Mariner East II and IIx.

Baker’s home in Lower Frankford Township is within the 1,000-foot safety radius of the pipeline route, as are the homes of several of his friends and neighbors in the area just  northwest of Carlisle. Many of them testified before Barnes in support of Baker’s case.

Baker’s main charge was that Sunoco had sent out safety information to his rural community only intermittently, and left residents, many of whom are physically disabled, with questions as to exactly how they should handle a pipeline leak or possible evacuation.

Barnes agreed, writing that Sunoco’s limited response to Baker as well as the county commissioners “shows a ‘one size fits all’ approach to public awareness rather than an enhanced public outreach program and perhaps a lack of proper record-keeping or internal controls designed to meet regulatory compliance within the company.”

Barnes’ opinion cites regulations from the state code and from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and industry standards from the American Petroleum Institute.

In addition, Baker had sought to require Sunoco to install some type of alarm or early-warning system to detect leaks via pressure drops, or simply by adding an odorant to chemicals traveling in the pipeline so that residents could smell a leak.

As Barnes reiterated in her ruling, there are no hard requirements in current regulations for such provisions, and she ruled in Sunoco’s favor on that matter.

But the PUC is moving through a rulemaking process for pipelines, including matters of public awareness, pressure testing and leak detection, in accordance with its authority to create necessary safety rules.

The PUC’s enforcement division has submitted comment to the rule-making case “requesting odorization or in the alternative enhance[d] leak detection to identify small leaks,” Barnes wrote.

Thus, Barnes said, Baker’s intent may come to fruition, regardless of his own case, via the PUC’s rule-making process, which is a more appropriate avenue.

“Even if there is not a consensus on every regulation, there is at least formalized due process before requirements of an odorant and/or alarm systems are placed upon the operator,” Barnes wrote of the future rule-making.

During the in-person hearing for Baker’s case in July, Barnes had pressed Sunoco consultant John Zurcher over the industry’s ability to self-determine what is and isn’t a reasonable safety precaution, after Zurcher had described leak-detection alarms as “feasible but just not practical.”

Baker’s other assertions in his filings were generally denied in Barnes’ ruling.

This included Baker’s charge that the European-made pipes used in part of the Mariner II and IIx projects, which had been imported by a company subject to steel-dumping penalties by the U.S. Department of Commerce, should be replaced.

“The commission has not authority to direct Sunoco to replace any foreign made steel pipes or fittings with American-made steel,” Barnes wrote.

The PUC’s rule-making case regarding pipeline construction and safety ended its comment period in September and is under review.

Sunoco’s comment on the case makes it clear that the industry does not believe the PUC has the legal authority to further put requirements on the pipeline, potentially setting up a legislative issue in Harrisburg.

The lack of certain provisions in Pennsylvania’s pipeline laws, relative to other utilities, “means the General Assembly did not intend to grant the PUC regulatory authority to dictate installation/construction techniques for pipeline facilities,” Sunoco wrote.

The Cumberland County commissioners, along with several municipal governments in the county, submitted comments to the PUC’s rule-making case encouraging stricter public outreach requirements.

Sunoco lobbied the PUC for the Mariner East builds to be considered public utilities in order to have eminent domain powers; now, Hertzler said, the company seems to not want the responsibility.

“They can’t have it both ways,” Hertzler said. “Now, as a public utility, they have a fundamental responsibility to the public.”


NTSB Pipeline Accident Brief: Natural Gas Explosion at Minnesota Educational Facility

Full Pipeline Accident Brief Report: Natural Gas Explosion at Educational Facility Minneapolis, Minnesota August 2, 2017

Issued by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on December 2, 2019

Executive Summary
​On August 2, 2017, at 10:22 a.m., local time, a building on the north campus of the Minnehaha Academy, a private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was destroyed by a natural gas explosion. Figure 1 shows an aerial view of the north campus prior to the accident, with a yellow arrow pointing toward the explosion site. Figure 2 is a photograph of the accident site taken after the building explosion, with emergency responders and gas company personnel on scene. At the time of the explosion, two workers were installing piping to support the relocation of gas meters from the basement of the building to the outside. Two new meters mounted on an exterior wall were ready for the piping to be connected. While workers were removing the existing piping, a full-flow natural gas line at pressure was opened. The workers were unable to control the release of the gas; thus, they evacuated the building and warned others to evacuate. The explosion occurred during their evacuation. Two individuals were killed, and nine others were injured.

Probable Cause​
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the natural gas explosion at the Minnehaha Academy occurred when a pipefitting crew disassembled piping upstream of a gas service meter. Contributing to the accident was the lack of detailed documentation that clearly established the scope of work to be performed.


New Jersey DEP rejects PennEast’s permit application, setting back the project again

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has shut the door again on a bid by PennEast Pipeline to obtain crucial permits for its 120-mile interstate project.

In a letter to the company dated Tuesday, the agency deemed the company’s applications deficient, largely based on a federal court’s decision blocking the company’s bid to condemn state-owned lands to build its pipeline (at a projected cost of $1 billion).

The decision marks a new setback in a five-year quest by PennEast to build a gas pipeline from Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River, to Mercer County, N.J. It aims to bring cheap natural gas to markets in New Jersey and the metropolitan area, but has encountered stiff opposition in both states.

Without the permits, the project is unlikely to be built, at least under its current proposed route, which crosses 49 separate properties owned by the state, most of them permanently preserved for agricultural, recreational or conservation purposes, largely with taxpayer dollars.

“Not necessarily,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for Rethink Energy NJ, referring to PennEast’s likely appeal of last month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. “It’s another brick in the wall against this project.’’

PennEast vowed to press forward with the project.

“PennEast is confident the legal actions will be resolved favorably and the long-standing legal precedent under which FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has operated to bring needed, clean, reliable, and affordable energy to consumers will be upheld,’’ said Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company.

“The recent public statements by natural gas utilities in New Jersey expressing serious concerns about the lack of infrastructure capacity and an inability to reliably serve families and businesses who depend on natural gas service, underscores the need and public benefit of the PennEast pipeline,’’ Kornick said.

But critics of the project question its need, particularly at a time when New Jersey and other states are trying to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Many environmental groups have urged Gov. Phil Murphy to impose a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, whether they be new gas pipelines or new gas-fired power plants.

DEP’s rejection occurs at the same time the governor came out on Wednesday night in a call-in radio show on WBGO opposing a big new gas-fired power plant in the Meadowlands. The agency’s actions signal a possible shift in the Murphy administration’s stance on allowing new fossil fuel projects, advocates said.

“Gov. Murphy and the NJ DEP are to be applauded for standing in defense of the rule of law, our environment, and our communities,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.


Overpressurized Gas Distribution System Caused Explosions, Fires: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts

National Transportation Safety Board News Release September 24, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts’ deficiencies in management and oversight led to overpressurization of a natural gas distribution system which resulted in a series of fires and explosions in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.

The Sept. 13, 2018, accident occurred after high-pressure natural gas was released into a low-pressure gas distribution system in the northeast region of the Merrimack Valley. One person was killed and 22 people, including three firefighters, were transported to area hospitals. The system over-pressure damaged 131 structures, including five homes that were destroyed.Prior to the overpressurization event a Columbia Gas-contracted work crew, which included a Columbia Gas inspector, was performing a Columbia Gas-designed and approved pipe-replacement project at an intersection. The contracted crew was working on a tie-in project that bypassed the existing cast-iron line and directed gas pressure to a new plastic line. The bypassed cast-iron line was still connected to the primary regulator control lines, providing input to the gas pressure regulator used to control system pressure. Once the contractor crews disconnected the cast-iron line, the section containing the control lines began losing pressure. Since the gas regulators did not sense system pressure, they responded by opening fully, allowing high-pressure gas to enter the low-pressure system.

“Catastrophic tragedies like this should never happen,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “When tackling major repair work that has the potential to impact a community, all precautions and planning should be considered and coordinated before, during and after the work has been done.”   

In the investigation discussed Tuesday, the NTSB found Columbia Gas of Massachusetts should have first relocated the control lines to the newly installed plastic main line after the existing cast iron main line was replaced. The NTSB noted, as part of its probable cause, that a low-pressure natural gas distribution system designed and operated without adequate overpressure protection contributed to the accident.As result a of the investigation, the NTSB issued five new safety recommendations with two issued to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, one to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, and one to NiSource, Inc.  Thirty-one states each received one safety recommendation.  These recommendations address safety issues including adequacy of natural gas regulations, project documentation, project management, risk assessment, emergency response and safety management systems.

The urgent safety recommendations issued earlier in the investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVx73.

An abstract of the final report, which includes the findings, probable cause, and all safety recommendations, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xVdTY.

Links to other publicly released information about this investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xVpR5.

Contact: NTSB Media Relations
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Keith Holloway
(202) 314-6100


Pipeline Rules Adopted Years After Deadly Explosion, Spills

Matthew Brown, Associated Press Updated 1:06 pm PDT, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

San Bruno, California.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. transportation officials on Tuesday adopted long-delayed measures that are meant to prevent pipeline spills and deadly gas explosions but don’t address recommended steps to lessen accidents once they occur.

The new rules from the Department of Transportation apply to more than 500,000 miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, oil and other hazardous materials throughout the U.S.

In the works for almost a decade, the rules came in response to a massive gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people in 2010, and large oil spills into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2011 and 2015.

The rules require companies to more closely inspect underground pipelines, including in rural areas and after catastrophic weather events. They also require better record-keeping so companies can monitor lines in some cases installed decades ago.

Left unaddressed were longstanding recommendations by safety officials to install valves that automatically shut down pipelines following accidents. Also absent were requirements for more advanced systems to detect pipeline ruptures.

Those issues were being addressed through a separate, ongoing rule-making process.

Industry groups and safety advocates backed the adopted changes. In February, they joined to prod the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to finalize the rule for gas transmission lines after it had been repeatedly delayed.

“It doesn’t seem to us like any of those rules should have taken 10 years to pass … Everybody thinks these are common-sense, small regulations,” said Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based group that formed after a 1999 gasoline pipeline break and explosion killed a teenager and two 10-year-old boys.

While the rules were pending, pipeline companies moved on their own to make safety improvements such as developing guidelines for identifying and repairing cracked lines and responding to pipeline emergencies, according to the Association of Oil Pipelines.

Federal regulators are expected to soon release their proposals for pipeline shut-off valves and rupture detection equipment. A separate proposal due sometime next year would extend safety regulations to so-called gathering pipelines that transport natural gas from drilling locations.

Congress also is considering changes to the government’s pipeline safety rules through legislation that would re-authorize the program for the next four years.

DEP Orders Sunoco to Reroute Pipeline After Marsh Creek Lake Spill

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

September 14, 2020 (Updated)

By Jon Hurdle, StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania environmental officials on Friday ordered Sunoco to reroute one of its problem-plagued Mariner East pipelines away from a site where construction spilled more than 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid into a lake and created a 15-foot sink hole.

The order from the Department of Environmental Protection was the first to demand a partial reroute of  the pipeline in its troubled three-and-a-half year construction history, and follows criticism that a series of fines and shutdowns previously imposed by the DEP have done little to improve Sunoco’s performance on the project — which has prompted the department to issue more than 100 notices of violation.

“These incidents are yet another instance where Sunoco has blatantly disregarded the citizens and resources of Chester County with careless actions while installing the Mariner East II Pipeline,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonell, in a statement. “We will not stand for more of the same. An alternate route must be used. The department is holding Sunoco responsible for its unlawful actions and demanding a proper cleanup.”

The DEP ordered Sunoco to immediately stop all construction on a horizontal directional drilling site in Uwchlan Township, Chester County, and to prepare to reroute its 20-inch pipeline over an approximately 1-mile section that the company previously identified as being technically feasible but which was not implemented.

The company was also directed to submit full reports on how it spilled some 8,100 gallons of drilling mud into a stream that fed Marsh Creek Lake on Aug. 10, and how its construction led to the sinkhole the next day. And it was ordered to submit an impact assessment and cleanup plan for the incidents by Oct. 1.

The order said Sunoco re-evaluated the site, as ordered by a court, following two spills there in 2017 while it was building a 16-inch pipeline along the same route, and concluded there was a “moderate to high risk” that drilling fluids would be lost and there would be inadvertent returns.

The DEP noted that 33 acres of Marsh Creek Lake, in a state park less than 40 miles west of Philadelphia, had been closed to the public because of the spill.

DEP spokeswoman Virginia Cain said the order had been issued because of the spill but also because Sunoco had not acted on earlier assurances that it would prevent further spills at the site, following “inadvertent returns,” or spills, there in 2017.

“It was the nature of the spill, and the things that they said they would do if there was a spill, which they didn’t do,” she said.

Sunoco issued a statement saying: “We are currently reviewing the DEP’s Administrative Order and will continue to work closely with the DEP on this issue as we have done throughout the duration of this project. Our first priority remains the safe completion and then operation of this important infrastructure project. Beyond that, we will decline to comment on the DEP’s press release.”

Rerouting the 20-inch line will further delay the project, which began in February 2017, and will add to construction costs. Even though the project remains incomplete, the company started operating Mariner East in December 2018 by pumping fuel through different-diameter pipes, leading critics to dub the project “frankenpipe.”

The Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, which advocates for the industry, said the order was a significant blow to the state’s biggest infrastructure project.

“DEP’s order to reroute this portion of the project is no small matter, especially when you consider the pipe in this area is meant to connect two existing pipes that are already in the ground,” said Kurt Knaus, a spokesman for the group. “Communities that thought this project was coming to an end now face potentially many more months of disruption, because this action has the potential of dramatically extending the construction life of a pipeline project that was nearly finished.”

Food & Water Watch, an activist group that opposes the Mariner East project, said the pipeline should be shut down rather than just rerouted.

“Sunoco’s negligence has created a series of entirely predictable disasters, the most recent being the massive spill at Marsh Creek Lake. This dangerous, unnecessary pipeline does not need to be re-routed. It must be shut down entirely,” said Sam Rubin, an organizer with the group.Ginny Kerslake, a Mariner East opponent who lives near another drilling site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, also called for the project to be shut down.“This action by the DEP is the least they could do,” she said.

The multi-billion dollar pipelines carry natural gas liquids from southwestern Pennsylvania and Ohio through 17 counties to a terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, where most of the fuel is exported. The project has been plagued by legal, technical and environmental problems, and has aroused strong opposition along the route because of disruption to private water supplies and concern about threats to public safety.

In January, the agency fined Sunoco $2 million for spilling more than 200,000 gallons of drilling mud into Raystown Lake. In 2018, the DEP penalized the company $12.6 million for multiple violations during pipeline construction.

Vote Delays New Jersey’s Planned First LNG Terminal on Delaware River

Photo: Center for Liquified Natural Gas


By The Maritime Executive , September 10, 2020

Plans for a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal to be located on the Delaware River were again stalled today as the commission overseeing the river voted to delay its initial approval of the project pending an appeal from an environmental group. The proposed project would be New Jersey’s first LNG export terminal on the Delaware River.

Initially approved in June 2019, the plan calls for the construction of a 1,600-foot pier at the Gibbstown Logistic Center on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River not far from the Philadelphia International Airport. The Delaware River Basin Commission, made of representatives from four states that border the river and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had granted initial approvals related to the dredging of the Delaware River to 43 feet and the building of the terminal. 

Due to additional protests from environmental and community groups, the DRBC later agreed to hold additional hearings to provide the Delaware Riverkeeper Network the opportunity to argue for a change in the approval. DRN, an environmental group, has argued against the increased traffic on the river as well as from the transport of the LNG and the environmental dangers. They contend the site would also increase air pollution and has the risk of explosion.

Under the plan put forth by New Fortress Energy, a second pier would be added to the facility built at the location of a former explosives plant. They had first proposed to create a single general-purpose pier for automobiles, cargo, propane, and butane. The second pier would be dedicated to the export of LNG being produced at the company’s liquefaction plant which is part of the contentious fracking process located on the Marcellus Shale fields in northern Pennsylvania. The fracking process has also been the center of numerous environmental challenges and became embroiled in political debates.

One of the issues that the environmentalists and residents have also raised is the transport of the gas from the facility in northern Pennsylvania to the terminal. It would be through heavily populated regions they contend and the truck traffic would create a danger to the residents. At the end of 2019, with the support of the Trump administration, the project was also issued the nation’s first LNG by rail permit to move the gas from the liquefaction plant to the terminal.

Construction on the terminal, which generally has been supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could have begun as early as this month. The Engineers had previously issued a delay in the construction due to the potential impact on two species of fish in the river.

During its regularly scheduled meeting, the Delaware River Basin Commission representatives from New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voted in favor of the delay while Pennsylvania abstained from the vote. The Army Corps of Engineers voted against the delay. The commission has previously noted that it has not withdrawn its approval, but under its processes was giving the groups time to make their appeals for a reversal of the decision. In addition, a collation of environmental groups is appealing the rail transportation permit granted by the federal government.

No ‘bomb trains’: 14 states aim to take new rule on LNG transport off the rails


August 21, 2020

By Hannah Chinn/WHYY

Fourteen states — including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — and the District of Columbia have filed a legal challenge to a new federal rule that would allow trains to carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) across the country.

The states’ move coincides with a petition filed by environmental organizations that also hope to block the rule, which was approved in late July by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Both petitions say the rule, set to take effect Monday, Aug. 24, should be overturned because it poses health, safety, and environmental risks.

Environmental advocates have nicknamed the proposed LNG rail cars “bomb trains,” for their potential explosive capacity.

For Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the rule could prove to be particularly important. That’s because an LNG terminal in Gibbstown, New Jersey, for which approval is pending would use rail cars to carry liquefied natural gas from Wyalusing in northeastern Pennsylvania to a Delaware River port in Gloucester County.

It would be the first route in the nation to allow such rail transport, meaning residents of those states would be the first potentially exposed to the level of danger the legal challenges say the new rule represents.

No safety studies

Federal safety and environmental studies on the impact of LNG rail transport — the kind that are typically carried out before the implementation of new regulations — have not yet been conducted.

“There’s never been a full risk assessment done, there’s never been a quantitative risk assessment done on the use of these rail cars for carrying LNG,” Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said Thursday.

Given that, she said, the Gibbstown route would mean “everybody exposed along the railways are put in the position of guinea pigs … [They] would be part of a big experiment that could potentially cost them their lives.”

The petition filed by the states does not lay out the full legal argument in its text, but a release from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said that the coalition plans to argue that “PHMSA’s failure to evaluate the environmental impacts of the rule is unlawful … the rule lacks the necessary safety requirements to minimize the risk to public safety associated with transporting LNG by rail.”

“The admin has fast-tracked a plan to haul explosive liquefied natural gas by train through communities nationwide. Without adequate safety and environmental studies,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal tweeted. “We’re fighting back to protect our residents.”

In a statement, Pennsylvania Attorney Josh Shapiro said, “Liquefied natural gas has almost never been allowed on rail cars in bulk, because it’s extremely dangerous — it’s explosive! Look, there are laws on the books to ensure safety, and the Trump administration must follow them.”

Rail transport’s track record: iffy

Under current federal law, it’s considered too dangerous to transport liquefied natural gas in regular tank railcars. LNG can be transported only by truck or — with special approval by the Federal Railroad Administration — by rail in small United Nations tanks mounted on top of railcars. That would change when the new rule takes effect.

In January, the same attorneys general voiced “strong objection” to the proposed change. But the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration chose to approve it July 24, authorizing bulk shipments of LNG by rail provided the transporting cars had certain enhanced outer tank requirements.

That wasn’t enough for the states or the environmental groups, which include the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Their petitions, filed Aug. 18, ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to find PHMSA’s rule unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Representatives from the Standards and Rulemaking Division of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legal challenges.

The petitions are not without precedent. After the derailment and explosion of crude oil trains in Quebec and North Dakota in 2013, as well as multiple incidents involving crude oil trains in Pennsylvania, advocates urged more stringent safety standards around rail transportation of hazardous and potentially explosive materials, both locally and nationwide. Some of those implemented regulations took effect as recently as 2019.

But the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Carluccio and other environmental advocates are worried that LNG — which can simultaneously combust and explode into vapor more than 600 times its volume — poses an unprecedented level of risk that far surpasses a crude oil shipment.

“We’re not talking about the usual hazardous material that are unfortunately [carried] every day across the nation’s railways,” she said. “We’re talking about a new breed of danger, danger that we’ve never faced before.”


September 9, 2020

By Member Jennifer Homendy, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Compass

Today marks 10 years since the devastating natural gas pipeline rupture that shattered a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The September 9, 2010, explosion destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. Even worse, 8 people were killed, 10 people sustained serious injuries, and many others suffered minor injuries.

The Accident

When I think of San Bruno, I struggle with the ‘right’ words to describe the horrific events that unfolded shortly after 6:00 p.m.—a time when many families across our nation are just sitting down for dinner.

In the moments after the rupture, calls flooded into 911, with reports of what many thought was a plane crash, a gas station explosion, or some combination of the two. One caller said it felt like an earthquake, and a fire captain who was on scene said, “It looked like Armageddon.” In fact, the rupture was so explosive that it produced a crater about 72 feet long by 26 feet wide and launched a 28-foot section of failed pipe about 100 feet south of the crater. The released gas almost immediately ignited. Emergency responders arrived within minutes to battle the ensuing inferno, yet it took Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) an astonishing 95 minutes to shut off the flow of gas that was intensifying the destruction. Firefighting efforts continued for 2 days, with 600 firefighters and 325 law enforcement personnel on scene.  

San Bruno, CA, accident scene with the crater in the foreground and the ruptured pipe section in the background
San Bruno, CA, accident scene with the crater in the foreground and the ruptured pipe section in the background

NTSB Warnings

I’m not going to get into the numerous failures at PG&E that led to the rupture. I want to focus on those 95 minutes. In December 1970, the NTSB released a Special Study of Effects of Delay in Shutting Down Failed Pipeline Systems and Methods of Providing Rapid Shutdown. You read that right—1970. We found that delays in shutting down pipelines increase the magnitude of catastrophe, and that, when the flow of gas or hazardous liquid is stopped soon after an initial rupture, the effects of many accidents would have been minimized or eliminated. In other words, numerous lives could’ve been saved, and injuries prevented.

Our report highlighted the 1968 rupture of a medium-pressure gas line in front of a daycare in Hapeville, Georgia. Construction crews on scene were unable to locate the buried valve to shut off the gas flow. A few minutes later, an explosion occurred inside the daycare. The ensuing fire engulfed the building and nine people were killed, including seven children. Three other children were seriously injured.

Nine other incidents—all involving failures to shut down pipelines—were cited in the report, and many more have occurred since it was published. The common theme? What we said in 1970 held true in San Bruno and holds true today: “For every one of the accidents cited, there are devices or equipment currently available which probably could have prevented the accident or greatly minimized its effect.”

We’ve been urging federal regulators to require those devices for 50 years! In fact, they’re still on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

The San Bruno Investigation

Getting back to San Bruno. In those crucial 95 minutes during which the gas continued to flow, PG&E control center staff knew there had been a rupture along the pipeline, but never once called 911. The three PG&E employees who first arrived on scene, two of whom were supervisors, had no idea how to operate mainline valves. They had to call people who were qualified to operate them, and by the time those mechanics located the valves and got to the first one, it was 7:20 p.m., over an hour after the rupture occurred. Meanwhile, the fire, described by NTSB investigators as a massive blowtorch, was still raging.

Because gas was being supplied to the break from both the north and the south, the shutoff valves closest to the break had to be closed to shut down and isolate the rupture. The shutoff valves were located about 1.5 miles apart, on either end of the break, and they had to be shut manually. Had PG&E installed readily available technology—valves with remote closure capability or ones that would automatically shut off the gas flow in response to pressure changes in the line—the amount of time the fire burned, and thus, the severity of the accident, could’ve been significantly reduced. In fact, this technology could’ve stopped the flow of gas the moment the rupture was detected.

In our final report on the accident, we recommended that federal regulators—the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)—require  pipeline companies to install automatic shutoff valves or remote shutoff valves in High Consequence Areas (defined as populated areas, drinking water sources, and unusually sensitive ecological areas).

PHMSA’s Response

On February 6, 2020, PHMSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Pipeline Safety: Valve Installation and Minimum Rupture Detection Standards,” claiming the NPRM responds to recommendations from the NTSB. It doesn’t. It requires automatic shutoff valves, remote-control valves, or equivalent technology to be installed only on newly constructed or entirely replaced onshore natural gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines that are larger than 6 inches in diameter.

Remember the daycare accident I mentioned? The pipeline that ruptured in that tragedy was only 1 inch in diameter. Existing gas transmission lines (like the PG&E line that ruptured in San Bruno), newly constructed or entirely replaced lines that are less than 6 inches in diameter, gas distribution systems, and offshore transmission lines are completely excluded from the NPRM’s requirements.

In other words, PHMSA’s solution won’t prevent another San Bruno disaster. Given that there are 2.6 million miles of gas pipelines in the United States, most of which date back to the 1950s and the NPRM doesn’t address any of them. With those numbers, another tragic accident is destined to occur, and if I’m the member on scene—or even if I’m not—I’ll remind PHMSA and industry, yet again, of all the ruptures we’ve investigated and all the opportunities they had to save lives.

To all those who lost loved ones in San Bruno or in another pipeline tragedy, you remain in our hearts. We are still fighting for you.

Florida: EPA Launches Investigation of Massive Methane Leak

Photo: Andrew Caplan / Gainesville Sun

August 21, 2020

By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News

EPA is investigating a massive release of methane over northern Florida in May to see whether it violated any requirements of the Clean Air Act, the agency confirmed yesterday.

EPA’s Region 4 office — which covers eight states and six tribes — said the release occurred northeast of Gainesville, which lies roughly 60 miles south of the Georgia border.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that the release may have occurred from maintenance operations at a natural gas compressor station located in Brooker (Bradford County), Florida,” Brandi Jenkins, director of Region 4’s Outreach and External Engagement Office, said in an emailed statement yesterday.

Jenkins said the agency is continuing to investigate the release’s cause.

Bloomberg first reported the EPA investigation.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — comes from natural gas and petroleum systems across the country, according to EPA figures for 2018.

EPA’s findings mirror those from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which said earlier this month the cloud of methane tracked by technology firm Bluefield Technologies Inc. came from an emergency shutdown of a natural gas compressor station on May 2 (Climatewire, Aug. 3).

Bluefield said in a statement last month that the “massive methane release” equaled about 300 metric tons of methane, which is described as the equivalent of over 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“On May 2, 2020, the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline performed an intentional emergency shutdown at its Brooker facility in Bradford County to repair the combustion turbine, which caused upstream natural gas (methane) to be vented to the atmosphere. Interstate pipelines are regulated at the federal level,” Alexandra Kuchta, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email yesterday.

Earlier reporting from Bloomberg tied the facility to the Florida Gas Transmission pipeline, a joint venture between Kinder Morgan Inc. and Energy Transfer Partners LP.

Katherine Hill, a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, referred a request for comment to Energy Transfer, which operates the system.

Energy Transfer did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Judge Overturns Shutdown of $3B Pipeline Project

WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 6, 2017: Directional drilling machinery for a natural gas liquids pipeline is seen through a window of private residence in Exton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)


August 26, 2020

By Mike Soraghan, E&E News

A judge has overruled Pennsylvania environmental regulators and allowed Energy Transfer LP to resume underground drilling for the Mariner East 2  pipeline in the location of a reported spill.

The company said the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had overreacted to the discharge of water at an existing seep location when it shut down construction at the site and was causing “significant economic losses.” State Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard Labuskes agreed and said Energy Transfer’s Sunoco Pipeline LP subsidiary could resume operations.

“Sunoco may restart drilling immediately,” he wrote, adding that his order could be reconsidered if there are new environmental problems. A hearing has been scheduled for Monday.

DEP had shut down the operation on Thursday, after a spill was reported in West Whiteland Township in the Philadelphia suburbs. Energy Transfer filed a challenge Sunday.

In addition to economic losses, the company also warned that an extended shutdown could cause the borehole that’s been drilled to collapse.

The construction project had a spill in the same spot in October 2019. The company and state officials spent months negotiating a plan to resume drilling before work began again in July. On Aug. 8, a preexisting seep was found to be flowing.

Energy Transfer said it followed the requirements of the plan it had worked out with the state and said the project should not have been shut down. Yesterday, an Energy Transfer spokeswoman said the company “will continue to comply with our work plans approved by the DEP.”

Pipeline critics have alleged that an aquifer was damaged in the incident, which Energy Transfer has denied.

The 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline carries natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale region to a processing facility near Philadelphia. Energy Transfer is using a temporary pipe to move liquids while Mariner East 2 construction is completed.

The $3 billion project, which is being carried out by Sunoco, has been slowed by spills, sinkholes and a yearlong regulatory standoff linked to an explosion on an additional Energy Transfer pipeline in the state.

The project has drawn opposition from many in the path of the 20-inch pipe in the Philadelphia suburbs, who say the pipeline shouldn’t have been built so close to homes and schools. They say a rupture could cause a catastrophe in the densely populated area.

The spill in West Whiteland Township came to light around the same time as a spill that leaked about 8,000 gallons of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake, part of a local park (Energywire, Aug. 12). That spill caused several local legislators to call for Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to halt construction and revoke the pipeline’s permit.

Last week, Energy Transfer was fined $355,000 for previous spills into streams and wetlands in eight counties (Greenwire, Aug. 21).

The DEP permit issued to Energy Transfer is reportedly the subject of an FBI investigation, one of several probes linked to the project. Charges against an Energy Transfer security manager in an alleged “buy-a-badge” scheme were dismissed by a judge earlier this summer (Energywire, June 29).

US Coast Guard: ‘All four missing crewmen have been recovered’ after the pipeline explosion in Corpus Christi


UPDATE: Monday, August 24 – 2:45 p.m.


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The search for the four crew members that began Friday, August 24, has ended as the United States Coast Guard was able to locate the missing crew.

“Coast Guard and salvage crews recovered the bodies of the two remaining crew members Monday after recovering a portion of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd from the Corpus Christi Ship Channel in Corpus Christi, Texas,” the US Coast Guard stated in a news release Monday afternoon. 

The Coast Guard said all missing crew members have been found and the families have been notified. 

“We are devastated by the loss of four of our colleagues, each of whom has been a valuable part of the Orion team for many years,” Mark Stauffer, CEO for Orion Marine Group said. “Our heartfelt prayers and sympathy are extended to their families and friends, and we ask that everyone please respect their privacy as we all work to recover from this terrible incident.” 

According to the Coast Guard, pollution response and salvage operations of the dredging vessel are ongoing. The Captain of the Port has modified the safety zone in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to allow vessel traffic throughout the Inner Harbor with restrictions. 

For the most recent Marine Safety Information Bulletins regarding the safety zone restrictions visit the Coast Guard’s Homeport site.

Approximately 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel has been removed from the water, according to the Coast Guard. 

UPDATE: Sunday August 23 – 1:59 p.m.

The Port Corpus Christi announced its continued and ongoing recovery efforts with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Unified Incident Command Team for the dredging vessel. 

“The restricted portion of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel will reopen when it is absolutely safe to do so. As the only major refining center on the U.S. Gulf Coast that currently is not expected to be within the anticipated area of impact from Tropical Storms Marco and Laura, efforts are also focused on recovery operations and reopening the affected portion of the Ship Channel so these critical refining centers can resume normal operations,” stated Port of Corpus Christi officials. 

UPDATE: Saturday, August 22 – 9:35 p.m. 

The Coast Guard announced they have suspended its search Saturday for two missing crew members from the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd.

According to Coast Guard officials, the bodies of two of the missing crew members were recovered at approximately 2 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, but two crew members remained missing.

“Our Coast Guard crews worked intently alongside state and local partners to locate the two crew members who remained missing, but unfortunately, we were unable to locate them,” said Capt. Edward Gaynor, commander, Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi. 

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy and a lot of factors are considered before suspending a search. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the missing crew members during this difficult time,” said Capt. Gaynor. 

Involved in the search were:

  • Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi
  • Coast Guard Station Port Aransas
  • Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Corpus Christi
  • Coast Guard Cutter Chinook
  • Coast Guard Cutter Manta
  • Coast Guard Cutter Sturgeon
  • Port Police Department Marine Units
  • Harbormaster’s Office
  • Security Command Center

UPDATE: Saturday, August 22 – 11:30 a.m.

Coast Guard representative, Corpus Christi Port Authority representative, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representative, Orion representative, and Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales held a press conference regarding the search and response efforts of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd fire on Saturday, August 22 at 3 p.m.

At 8:12 a.m. Friday, Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi watchstanders received reports from witnesses describing a fire in the Port of Corpus Christi. A Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued two injured crew members and four remained missing. The fire onboard the dredging vessel was extinguished at approximately 10 p.m. Friday after the vessel broke apart and sunk.

The United States Coast Guard has confirmed that the bodies of two missing crew members from the Waymon L. Boyd vessel were recovered Saturday morning. 

Officials say the bodies of the crew members were recovered at approximately 2 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on August 22. 

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, two crew members remain missing and they are continuing the search in the Corpus Christi Bay waters. 

“A Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and a Station Port Aransas 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boat crew are currently on scene searching. The Port Police Department Marine Unit is also on scene assisting,” said officials. 

Authorities say the fire onboard the dredging vessel, Waymon L. Boyd, was extinguished at approximately 10 p.m. Friday night, after the large vessel broke apart and sunk.

“Approximately, 6,000 feet of absorbent boom has been placed around the vessel. Another 4,000 feet of absorbent boom is available if needed. Air quality testing by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is ongoing,” stated officials. 

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Corpus Christi closed the Inner Harbor from the Chemical Turning Basin to the Viola Turning Basin, officials say. 

Coast Guard representative, Corpus Christi Port Authority representative, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representative, Orion representative, and Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales are scheduled to hold a press conference regarding the search and response efforts of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd fire on Saturday, August 22 at 3 p.m.

“We greatly appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and other responders in their efforts to recover our missing crewmen,” said Mark Stauffer, CEO, Orion Marine Group. “Our focus is on supporting our employees and their families during this difficult time and our thoughts and prayers are with them and all the first responders. We continue to work alongside the U.S. Coast Guard, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority, TCEQ, and the other agencies to assist in the recovery of our personnel and the wider investigation into this incident.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the impacted crewmen and their families,” said Sean Strawbridge, CEO, Port of Corpus Christi. 

2 Dead and 2 Missing After Pipeline Explosion in Corpus Christi

August 22, 2020

By Christina Morales, New York Times

A submerged pipeline that exploded and a fire on board a dredging vessel on Friday left two crew members dead and two others missing in Corpus Christi, Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The bodies of two crew members from the vessel — named the Waymon L. Boyd from the Orion Marine Group — were recovered on Saturday morning.

Those killed were not publicly identified. Six people were hospitalized, with some being treated for burns, the authorities said.

Hours after a news conference on Saturday where officials pledged to keep looking for the two missing crew members, the Coast Guard announced that the search had been suspended.

Edward Gaynor, the captain of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi, said searchers tried with state and local authorities to find those missing but the effort was unsuccessful.

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy and a lot of factors are considered before suspending a search,” he said in a statement on Saturday night. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the missing crew members during this difficult time.”

Officials were notified about a fire at the Port of Corpus Christi around 8 a.m. on Friday. Lt. Marina Lawrence of the Coast Guard said that although it was clear that a submerged pipeline exploded and that the fire and the pipeline explosion were related, the cause remained unclear and was under investigation.

Agencies offered conflicting accounts, however, about the explosion.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said on Friday that a barge struck a propane pipeline. The Port of Corpus Christi said it was a natural gas pipeline, the television station KSAT reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the explosion, Sean Strawbridge, the chief executive of the Port of Corpus Christi, said on Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on LNG Exports

GAO Report on Natural Gas Exports: Updated Guidance and Regulations Could Improve Facility Permitting Processes

In 2019, about 39% of U.S. natural gas exports went through export facilities—in which the gas is liquefied and loaded onto ships for transport. Multiple federal agencies regulate export facility design. Federal guidance says that agencies should review regulations every 3-5 years and, if needed, adopt current technical standards for safety and environmental protection.

But some regulations haven’t been updated. For example, one agency requires export facilities to comply with a 1994 fire extinguisher standard that includes some obsolete extinguisher types. We recommended that agencies establish a process to regularly update regulations.

What GAO Found

Federal agencies have incorporated most but not all key collaboration practices in the permitting processes for export facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG). GAO has identified seven key practices that can help sustain collaboration among federal agencies, including reviewing and updating written guidance and agreements. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard), which jointly lead the permitting process for LNG export facilities in federal waters, have incorporated all seven key practices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which leads the permitting process for LNG export facilities located on land or in state waters (facilities in both places are referred to as onshore facilities), has incorporated six of the key practices. However, FERC does not regularly review and update its interagency agreements, which outline agencies’ roles and responsibilities in the onshore permitting process, because it does not have a process to do so. Establishing a process to regularly review and update FERC’s agreements with other agencies would help FERC ensure that, in the near term, other agencies clearly understand and consistently implement the permitting process and, for the longer term, the agreements address policy changes that may affect the process.

FERC’s, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA), and the Coast Guard’s regulations for permitting LNG export facilities do not incorporate all current technical standards. For example, FERC’s regulations cite an outdated 1984 earthquake standard, PHMSA’s regulations cite outdated fire safety standards from 2001, and the Coast Guard’s regulations cite an outdated 1994 standard for fire extinguishers. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget states that agencies should conduct a standards-specific review of regulations that cite technical standards every 3 to 5 years and update the regulations with updated standards, if necessary. However, FERC, PHMSA, and the Coast Guard have not recently conducted such a review and FERC and PHMSA do not have processes in place to regularly do so. The Coast Guard has a process for conducting such reviews but it does not specify how frequently the reviews should occur. Without processes to conduct a standards-specific review of regulations every 3 to 5 years, the agencies cannot be assured that the regulations remain effective at ensuring safety.

See the full GAO report in our Library of Technical Reports & Research Papers.