Local activists demand reform after Pennsylvania natural gas pipeline explodes

Akron Beacon Journal

Published: April 29, 2016 – 01:05 PM


Local residents expressed concern Friday after the explosion of a Pennsylvania natural gas pipeline owned by the same company that plans to run a similar pipeline through Summit, Medina, Wayne and Stark counties.

Friday’s explosion in Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air, burning a nearby home and injuring a man who lived there.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said the blast was traced to a 3-foot diameter pipeline owned by Texas Eastern Transmission, a unit of Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp.

The inferno spread into a nearby wooded area, reducing trees to towering charred slivers and melting the vinyl siding off a home.

“It looked like you were looking down into hell,” said responding Fire Chief Bob Rosatti.

Summit and Medina county activists said the pipeline that exploded is similar to the Nexus Gas Transmission Pipeline that’s proposed to be built in the region on its way to a Canadian energy hub.

“This demonstrates exactly the dangers we’ve been pointing out about running a 36-inch diameter pipeline operating at 1,400 PSI through populated areas,” said Paul Gierosky, a Medina County property owner and co-founder of the Coalition to Reroute Nexus. “I’m damn mad because people are getting hurt.”

He blamed energy lobbyists for blocking attempts to reform federal safety standards.

“Right now the standards allow a pipeline of this size to be built within 50 feet of a house, a school, a church,” he said. “We have a fundamental right to be safe, but the federal government is infringing on our rights.”

David Mucklow, a Green resident whose property had been on the proposed Nexus route, expressed similar frustrations.

“The bottom line is these pipelines need a 500-meter setback in order to be fully safe,” Mucklow said. “The federal government has dropped the ball on this.”

Asked whether residents near the Nexus pipeline’s route had cause for concern, Spectra spokesman Arthur Diestel issued this response in an email: “Spectra Energy personnel are responding to an incident in Salem Township, Penn., on its Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline. Our first concern is for the safety of the community and our employees, and we are cooperating and coordinating with state and local authorities in our response.”

Diestel directed reporters to www.spectraenergy.com for more information.

After the Pennsylvania explosion, the pipeline was shut off and the fire was put under control within an hour. Officials said residual gas could continue to burn for several hours.

The injured man’s condition was not immediately released, but authorities said he was taken by ambulance to the burn unit of a Pittsburgh hospital.

The pipeline that exploded is one of four owned by Texas Eastern that run through the rural tract that Pete Rugh, 84, has called home his entire life.

“It scared the heck out of me. I heard this terrible roar. It shook to beat the devil,” Rugh said.

“The noise was so great I couldn’t hear anybody on the phone,” Rugh said. “The room where I was sitting turned orange. I thought the fire was closer to me than it was, so I grabbed my keys, got in my vehicle and got out of there.”