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Dingell Raises Concerns about Safety & Need for Public Input on NEXUS Pipeline Waiver

Washington, DC, February 2, 2017

U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-12) today sent a letter to Howard Mac McMillan, executive director of the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), asking that Spectra Energy’s request for a special permit to waive odorization requirements for the NEXUS pipeline be denied at this time. Odorizing natural gas makes it easier for citizens living in the vicinity of the pipeline to detect any leaks. 

Dingell voiced concerns about the safety of residents in communities surrounding the pipeline, which would pass through the eastern part of Washtenaw County, and the fact that residents and municipalities did not receive notification of the public comment period or ample time to submit input. 

“This letter is to request that this special permit be denied at this time to ensure the odorization requirements remain in place and so local communities can have proper insight into the waiver decision,” wrote Dingell. “It is critical to ensure that the public has proper input into these decisions and that public safety is always protected.”

DTE Energy will convene a community meeting this month so that all stakeholders can voice their opinions.

“The impacted communities have many questions, are greatly concerned about the potential danger to them, and were not given appropriate time to submit public comments” Dingell wrote. “For the many reasons listed above, I respectfully request that PHMSA deny this special permit to waive the odorization requirements for the NEXUS pipeline until all local concerns are satisfied.” 

The requirement of natural gas odorziation dates back to an incident at a school in New London, Texas in 1937 which killed more than 295 people. During an investigation into the incident, it was discovered that a faulty natural gas line had leaked gas into the school and the leak was not noticed because the gas was odorless. If a natural gas leak had been detected early through its odor, a catastrophe could have been prevented. As a result of this tragedy, Congress mandated the odorization of natural gas pipelines in highly populated areas.

The full letter is here and below.

February 2, 2017

The Honorable Howard Mac McMillan
Executive Director 
Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Executive Director McMillan:
            
This letter is in reference to the NEXUS Pipeline, which if completed will traverse the eastern part of Washtenaw County in Michigan’s 12th Congressional district.  The project is led by Spectra Energy, which has applied for a special permit to waive the odorization requirements specified in 49 CFR 192.625 [PHSMA-2016-0009].  While Spectra argues that odorizing gas in the pipeline will be cost prohibitive and technologically difficult, it is critical to ensure that the public has proper input into these decisions and that public safety is always protected.  This letter is to request that this special permit be denied at this time to ensure the odorization requirements remain in place and so local communities can have proper insight into the waiver decision. 
            
The requirement of natural gas odorziation dates back to an incident at a school in New London, Texas in 1937 which killed more than 295 people.  During an investigation into the incident, it was discovered that a faulty natural gas line had leaked gas into the school and the leak was not noticed because the gas was odorless.  If a natural gas leak had been detected early through its odor, a catastrophe could have been prevented.  This is exactly why Congress mandated the odorization of natural gas pipelines in Class 3 locations, which are highly populated areas, and the requirement should not be waived lightly.
            
In their application, Spectra argues that the odorization requirements are not necessary because the company will undertake additional activities to make the pipeline safer and more secure.  However, some of the examples the company cites are already mandated by current law.  For example, Spectra offers to build the line to be “piggable,” but pipeline operators are already required to build their pipelines so a smart-pig can be run through them.  Odorization is required in addition to what is being proposed by Spectra in order to keep the public safe. 
            
It is also important to ensure government is abiding by principles of environmental justice to ensure all communities have a voice in decisions that impact them.  The NEXUS pipeline would run through several low-income census tracts in multiple communities, including running along an intersection that would pass within 400-1000 feet of three elementary schools.  Not only would removing the odorization requirements endanger the health, safety and welfare of local residents, it would also be in conflict with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) commitment to addressing environmental justice in low-income and minority populations as memorialized in DOT Departmental Order 5610.2(a). 
            
Finally, communities surrounding the proposed pipeline route were not given ample notification or time to submit their input on the waiver. The FERC comment period did not indicate that a permit to waive odorization requirements would be sought by Spectra Energy.  Local municipalities did not receive notification from either Spectra Energy or PHMSA that this issue was open for public comment.  The waiver only came to the attention of Ypsilanti Township when attorneys representing the pipeline sought easements on nine parcels of land owned by the Township.  It is my understanding that the public comment period will be reopened following Spectra’s submission of additional environmental information to PHMSA last month (titled “Special Permit Petition Environmental Information”).   I encourage you to make all stakeholders aware of this new opportunity for the public to comment on the impacts of this project. 

Ypsilanti Township is the most urbanized area along the proposed route of the NEXUS pipeline.  The proposed Special Permit Segments could encompass another 21 miles of the pipeline due to final route adjustments or an increase in population. A total of 30 miles would then be in the waiver zone.  In the event of a natural disaster, such as a tornado, the odor would also inform citizens of an impending emergency.  Citizens who live in the vicinity of the pipeline need a mechanism to detect a gas leak.   

The odorization requirements for Class 3 zones are a critical public safeguard and are mandated for a reason.  In February, it is my understanding that DTE Energy will be convening a community meeting so that all stakeholders can voice their opinions on the odorization waiver.  The impacted communities have many questions, are greatly concerned about the potential danger to them, and were not given appropriate time to submit public comments.  For the many reasons listed above, I respectfully request that PHMSA deny this special permit to waive the odorization requirements for the NEXUS pipeline until all local concerns are satisfied.  
Thank you for attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
                                                            

Debbie Dingell                                                            
Member of Congress

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