December 12, 2013

Summit Natural Gas: Augusta area fittings are safe, but some being replaced

Gas company officials say wrong pressure rating means gas would have to be piped differently, and it could affect operations.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Officials of a natural gas company installing pipe throughout the Kennebec Valley acknowledged Thursday some underground pipe fittings were installed with the wrong pressure rating, but said the mixup is not a safety hazard.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine officials, together with representatives of competing gas company Maine Natural Gas, presented information on natural gas safety to Augusta City Councilors at Thursday’s informational meeting.

Keith Lincoln, director of gas operations for Summit, was asked by City Councilor Michael Byron about what Byron described as “street talk,” that the pressure ratings of some elbows connecting sections of Summit’s pipeline were wrong.

Lincoln said some fittings with an incorrect pressure rating were installed but the error was caught and those fittings are being replaced.

He stressed the fittings are not a safety hazard. He said they are safe but are being replaced because if they remained, the company would have to run gas at a slightly lower pressure and, without as high a pressure as planned, Summit might not be able to serve as many large new users in the future.

“There’s no safety issue,” Lincoln said. “It’s really one of operations.”

Lincoln, in response to a question from Councilor Cecil Munson, said the fittings would be replaced before gas is run in the pipes. He said all of the incorrect fittings from the pipeline source to Augusta have been replaced, and others are in the process of being replaced.

In late November, a dispute between Summit and since-departed contractor Schmid Pipeline Construction Inc., of Mayville, Wis., caused some delays to construction of Summit’s mainline in Norridgewock and Randolph.

Summit officials have declined to discuss what the dispute was about.

Summit and Maine Natural Gas officials presented a united front on safety Thursday, noting they have worked closely together, and will continue to do so, on a Public Utilities Commission-required consolidated plan to respond jointly to any reported leaks or other emergencies involving natural gas.

On Nov. 19, a manhole cover was blown into the air when air leaked from a natural gas line being tested on Arsenal Street. Officials initially weren’t sure which company to alert — both Summit and Maine Natural Gas have been installing gas pipeline in the city — though both companies sent representatives to the scene that night. Ultimately, the line was determined to belong to Summit.

While it’s not known if the fittings had anything to do with that issue, and there was no gas danger, the incident spurred the safety conversation.

Lincoln and Jamie Garland, gas engineer for Maine Natural Gas, said when someone reports a leak in Augusta, technicians from both companies will respond to the scene to make sure people are safe and to fix the leak.

They also both encouraged anyone who may need to dig into the ground to call Dig Safe at 1-888-DIG-SAFE, 1-888-344-7233, or 811 to have the companies come out and mark the ground to make sure gas lines aren’t hit by digging.

Both companies also have emergency lines people can call if they think they smell gas. Maine Natural Gas’ is 1-877-532-5636 or 1-877-LEAK-ODOR, while Summit’s is 1-800-909-7642.

Lincoln said calls to those numbers would be answered around the clock by trained employees and reported leaks would be responded to immediately.

Both companies put a chemical in their gas which has a rotten egg-like smell, so people can detect leaks by smelling the odor.

Keith Edwards - 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com

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