March 19, 2019

Vermont Gas may pay $25,000 for violations

Ground cleared for the Vermont Gas pipeline, portions of which regulators have found were not properly buried. File photo by Morgan True / VTDigger

By Mike Polhamus

For VTDigger

Vermont Gas, the natural gas utility owned by Canadian fossil fuel giant Énergir, has likely buried an Addison County gas pipeline improperly, regulators said last week in a filing with the Public Utility Commission.

The Department of Public Service has asked the PUC to assess a $25,000 fine against Vermont Gas for failing to bury the pipeline according to the standards set out in the state permit authorizing the pipeline’s construction.

Vermont Gas had agreed, as a condition of its 2013 Addison County gas pipeline construction permit, to bury the pipeline on top of sandbags, or on other support structures, or on at least 6 inches of approved backfill material. But the Department of Public Service said last Wednesday that it had identified about 4,300 feet of pipeline sitting on unsupported earth.

On at least four occasions between 2015 and 2016, Vermont Gas buried pipeline without the supports required in the permit, the Department of Public Service charged in its ‘Notice of Probable Violation’ letter to the commission.

It is a violation of state law to build a structure that doesn’t comply with approved written standards, DPS representatives said in the letter.

Improperly buried pipe could corrode as a result of the different types of soil above and below the pipeline, they said.

Vermont Gas is also charged in the letter with failing to act to reduce soil erosion around the pipeline by shunting groundwater away from the structure.

The Department of Public Service is, as a result, “concerned that this installation may have an increased susceptibility to soil erosion around the pipe, which may affect the integrity of the pipe.”

The department also claimed that Vermont Gas patched “anomalies” in the pipe’s protective coating with “certain manufactured lots of Canusa sleeves (‘wraps’) that exhibited adhesion failure.”

DPS engineers also identified another two locations where the pipe’s protective coating may have been damaged while it was installed using ‘horizontal directional drilling.’ Horizontal directional drilling, or HDD, is a practice Vermont Gas used to bury some portions of the pipeline by tunneling through soil horizontally and stuffing the pipeline into the hole. The rest of the pipeline was laid within a trench workers dug and, in most portions, reinforced with supports along the bottom.

“While the Department is not at this time considering the above two items (patch adhesion failure and HDD damage) to be code violations, the Department is concerned that these two issues could, over time, present a corrosion risk to the pipeline,” the letter states.

Because of the threat of corrosion, the letter recommends increasing the inspection schedule from every seven years to every five years, and for Vermont Gas to identify and repair damage from corrosion on the same schedule.

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