November 20, 2013

Augusta looks to improve records following pipeline scare

Summit Natural Gas of Maine says Tuesday leak was caused by a faulty cap on Arsenal Street, one of 18 city streets where rival companies can lay pipe.

By Michael Shepherd
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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

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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

Related headlines

Streets with natural gas pipeline

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.


Anthony Avenue

Armory Street

Arsenal Street

Bridge Street

Civic Center Drive

Columbia Street

Commercial Street

Community Drive

Cony Road

Cony Street

Darin Drive

Front Street

Hospital Street

Leighton Road

Sewall Street

Union Street

Western Avenue

Winthrop Street


Source: Augusta Public Works Department

On Wednesday, Jones said as a short-term solution to Tuesday’s issues, the public works department will soon give city emergency dispatchers a list of the streets where each company is allowed to install pipeline, separated by company. Later on, she said the city will work to add locations of the companies’ pipeline networks to the Greater Augusta Utility District’s geographic information system, which already shows water, sewer and stormwater lines district-wide.

Audette said because first-responders didn’t smell mercaptan — the smelly substance added to otherwise odorless natural gas so leaks can be detected — they didn’t think it was initially a gas leak. Still, he said, the department “erred on the side of safety on the chance that they didn’t add mercaptan” and it was a leak.

He and Jones said in the near future, if a problem is found with a line in the city, both companies will be called to respond. That’s a unique problem for Augusta in the Kennebec Valley: Only Summit will serve the rest of the area, making the job easier for Bob Gilchrist, Waterville’s public works manager.

“I think one of the problems with Augusta is they have two companies servicing them,” he said. “There’s no question of ownership here” in Waterville.

Pipelines are thought of as safer ways to transport oil and gas than train or truck. But when there are problems, they can be deadly.

A 2012 investigation by ProPublica, an online news outlet, found that nationwide since 1986, pipeline accidents killed more than 500 people, injured more than 4,000, and caused almost $7 billion in property damages. In 2010, a San Bruno, Calif., natural gas pipeline ruptured underground, exploding a gas station. The blast sent flames hundreds of feet in the sky, left a 72-foot-long crater, killed eight and injured more than 50.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in all significant pipeline incidents from 2006 to 2010 in the country, the top three causes were material or weld failures, corrosion and excavation damage.

In January, when Summit got approval as a state utility, Daniel Hucko, a spokesman for Maine Natural Gas, which opposed Summit’s pipeline approval, warned of confusion between the two companies in an emergency, saying “if there is a problem with one of the lines, and there is a leak, there could be confusion and delays in getting that corrected” with two companies operating in close proximity to one another.

On Wednesday, Hucko said, “We witnessed some of that last night.” But he said when crews from his company arrived at the scene Tuesday, they could quickly tell it wasn’t their pipe, which runs south down Arsenal Street, but turns up East Chestnut Street about 400 feet from Summit’s affected area.

However, he said there are other spots where the companies’ lines are buried closer together. In an emergency, he said that could affect how quickly companies respond, “with the potential to create confusion.” But Hucko said crews from both companies will continue to respond to emergencies and control situations.

“Potentially there can be some issues,” he said. “But it’s really very safe and we want to keep it that way.”

Staff Writer Jesse Scardina contributed to this report. Michael Shepherd — 370-7652 Twitter: @mikeshepherdme
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