Monday, March 10, 2014
AUGUSTA — Confusion about who owned a natural gas line where an air leak blew off a manhole cover Tuesday night has highlighted a predicament of having two competing firms install pipelines in the city.
FAILED TEST: Augusta Police Dept. Sgt. Vincente Morris looks down Arsenal Street after the street buckled Tuesday night above a natural gas pipeline, resulting in evacuations of nearby residents. Authorities determined that air in a Summit Natural Gas pipeline erupted during a pressure test.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
PATCHING: Tetra Tech employees Chad Kemp, left, and Tyler Frost patch Arsenal Street in Augusta on Wednesday after crews repaired a Summit Natural Gas pipeline that leaked air the night before.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
There are 18 Augusta streets where both Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas have permits to lay pipe for their respective networks, which creates the potential for confusion when a problem occurs.
Civic Center Drive
Source: Augusta Public Works Department
There are now 18 city streets where Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas are allowed to have pipe, according to a Kennebec Journal review of city records.
The leak Tuesday night on Arsenal Street was later determined to occur in a section of Summit Natural Gas of Maine’s pipeline south of the old MaineGeneral Medical Center building. No one was injured, but for most of an hour the incident had city fire crews and police treating the line as if it were gas-charged and potentially explosive.
They called both Summit and Maine Natural Gas to send crews to the scene without knowing for a time exactly whose pipeline had failed. The city said Tuesday it would be improving record-sharing with first responders on the companies’ lines.
City records show both companies are allowed to have pipe on Arsenal Street, one of 18 streets they’re both approved for, along with Western Avenue, Civic Center Drive, Sewall Street and other well-traveled roads.
Maine Natural Gas, which turned on its pipeline in late October, called attention to the confusion that could create in an emergency earlier this year. Summit’s network hasn’t been powered up with gas, but the company has said it wants to turn it on by mid-December.
On Wednesday, Michael Duguay, Summit’s director of business development, said the air leak occurred because an improper cap fitted to the end of the section of pipeline on Arsenal Street was blown off during an air pressure test of the section. Companies test capacity of the network by pumping air in past the pressure level necessary to carry gas, holding it for hours.
“If the pressure drops at all, then you have to go back and do some remedial work,” said C. John Meeske, a Massachusetts energy consultant who was hired earlier this year by Augusta to examine the city’s natural gas market. “In this case, it became easy to see where the remedial work needs to be done.”
Duguay said the cap will be replaced and the section re-tested before the pipeline is turned on. “This is exactly why you’re required to do the test,” he said.
The leak was reported at 9:18 p.m. Tuesday, and witnesses said they saw steam coming from the opening. Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Daniel Guimond said that was likely dust from the wrecked pavement, but he said the hole “was roaring like a jet engine” from air pressure when he arrived.
Just before 10 p.m., an Augusta police sergeant said natural gas companies were telling police that the affected pipeline was Summit’s, but that was still “to be determined.” It was confirmed minutes later, and a Summit official was at the scene around 10:30 p.m. After a brief evacuation of apartments within 200 feet, authorities let residents back in around 10 p.m.
Lesley Jones, Augusta’s public works director, said she was “not sure why” authorities initially didn’t know whose pipe was whose on Tuesday night, “because Public Works knew.” But Jerry Dostie, Augusta’s street superintendent, said at the scene the city has plans on file that show where each company has pipe, but those plans are “not easily accessible” in an emergency.
Fire Chief Roger Audette said while the confusion may have delayed the response from Summit, it didn’t change his department’s responsibility, mainly to shut down the affected road and help police evacuate nearby residents, if necessary.
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