500,000 gallons of contaminated water produced while testing Sandisfield pipeline; decontamination fails

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By Saturday, Nov 18 News  9 Comments
Sue Baxter
A fractionation tank on its way to the shores of Lower Spectacle Pond to try to decontaminate 547,000 gallons of water drawn from from the pond. After decontamination efforts failed, the water was shipped to an off-site decontamination facility in Maine.

Sandisfield — On Halloween day, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave the final green light to Kinder Morgan subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, to begin shipping gas through the Connecticut Expansion pipeline. A treat for the company felt like a trick to many in Berkshire County who had fought unsuccessfully to preserve the small gem of Otis State Forest.

Massachusetts Article 97 did not stop construction of the Connecticut Expansion pipeline. Nor did serious questions about need. Nor have the fervent protests of local landowners and Native Americans.

A TGP worker monitors the pump that is removing water from Lower Spectacle Pond. Photo: Ben Hillman

Construction of the pipeline has not proceeded smoothly. Tennessee was forced to change its plans about water disposal after high levels of contamination could not be reduced sufficiently to meet EPA effluent standards. And the company’s land restoration efforts have been challenged in FERC proceedings.

Hydrostatic Testing, Resulted in Sky-High Levels of Zinc

Although FERC must approve natural gas pipelines, pipeline safety is regulated by the U. S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

DOT requires testing of pipelines in order to expose defective materials that might have missed detection and to ensure that the pipe will be strong enough to transport pressurized gas without risk of explosion.

To do the testing, Tennessee withdrew about 547,000 gallons of water from Lower Spectacle Pond — about half of the originally-planned million gallons — in order to test the hydrostatic pressure of the pipeline.

The hydrostatic testing of the Connecticut Expansion pipeline resulted in 547,000 gallons of highly contaminated water that TGP had to dispose of offsite. Photo: Sugar Shack Alliance

Once the testing was completed, Tennessee was left with highly contaminated water that the company had not expected – and a big disposal problem.

In a September 23 letter to EPA’s Boston office, the Environmental Project Manager for Tennessee noted that tetrachlorethylene, copper, iron, lead, nickel and zinc levels exceeded effluent limits.

Most dramatically, the zinc level in the test water was about 19 times the safe level, or 570 micrograms per liter rather than the 30 micrograms per liter required by the EPA.

A table showing analysis of contaminants in water used to test the integrity of the TGP pipeline. Zinc levels were shown to be 19 times permitted concentrations.

Leeching of heavy metals and chemicals from the pipe likely caused the high levels of contamination.

Tennessee first informed the EPA that it planned to subcontract with ProAct Services to design, build and operate a treatment system on-site to reduce the concentrations of contaminants before “discharge to an upland area” in the vicinity of Otis State Forest.

This plan, however, failed. ProAct was unable to reduce the contaminant levels to the point where the water could be disposed of in Otis. After decontamination efforts failed, the water is being shipped to an off-site decontamination facility.

An aerial view of filtration tanks that remove debris from the water used in the hydrostatic testing of the pipeline.

The company again wrote EPA, stating in an October status report that it had transferred the hydrostatic test water to holding tanks in preparation to haul it to a water treatment facility.

Peter Czapienski, a spokesman for the Springfield-based, western division of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), confirmed the change of plans, and said that licensed haulers will be transporting the effluent offsite.

Land Restoration

Filings by Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN) raise serious questions about Tennessee’s efforts to restore the land around the Massachusetts loop.

After the company petitioned FERC to begin transporting gas, MassPLAN shot back in an opposition filing that permission should not be granted because, among other reasons, “TGP’s restoration and mitigation efforts…[are] inadequate.”

MassPLAN disputed the company’s claim that it has installed “approximately 90 percent of tree and shrub mitigation plantings.” Rather, the group said, “not a single prescribed tree or shrub has been planted along the restoration areas of the pipeline route, stream crossings, or mitigation wetland replication site.”

MassPLAN, based in Cummington, works with local residents and activists in Sandisfield who observe what the company is doing as best possible in light of the limited public access to the construction site.

Connecticut Expansion pipeline construction in Sandisfield. Photo: Ben Hillman

The watchdog group also questioned the accuracy of the company’s statement that “restoration/seeding and final cleanup” are complete along approximately 97 percent of the Massachusetts Loop.

Even if this were an accurate estimate, the reseeding must be inspected and redone in light of the flash-flooding and high winds that the area experienced at the end of October, the group claimed.

Tennessee was also required to purchase and convey to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Division of MassParks certain land, “the Fales Site,” under the terms of the final Water Quality Certification. Yet MassPlan’s research showed that the Registry of Deeds for the Southern Berkshire District does not include conveyance of the site to the Commonwealth.

Although the Certification states, “This [conveyance] shall occur prior to the initiation of any activities otherwise permitted in this Certification…” (Emphasis added), this apparently has not happened.

Transfer of the 35.7-acre site, which includes a forested portion located within a Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Landscape, is the “Preservation Component of the Compensation Package,” in the Certification. Tennessee must convey the site to the Commonwealth in order to compensate, in part, for its taking significant acreage in the Otis State Forest by eminent domain.

Looking back at the pipeline’s beginnings, Tennessee contracted with three Connecticut gas companies in 2013, when that state’s policy was to convert homeowners and businesses from oil to gas. Then oil prices tanked. There was little incentive to switch to gas. Connecticut’s goals were not met.

Also, many in Connecticut are concerned about the impact of gas burning on the state’s targets for reducing greenhouse gasses.

Despite the shifting state policy and reduced need for the gas, FERC approved the pipeline and the Berkshire Superior Court upheld FERC.

Under these circumstances, at the very least, MassPLAN and the town of Sandisfield now say, restoration of the land and water around the pipeline must be done right.


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9 Comments   Add Comment

  1. peter greer says:

    Thank you for the continuing investigative journalism Mary. It’s mind boggling that the company did not fully test the pipeline material before choosing it and ads another reason to worry about future problems. Has there been or is there a requirement to do a leak test?(methane which is 84X more potent than carbon) .So to further the public interest , the driver of gas act of 1936 , 500,000 gallons of pristine water has been turned into polluted sludge that requires massive remediation… Time for a politician with guts to stand up to the NG lobby and lead the charge to repeal/revoke/sunset this fraud.

  2. The Enviro Show says:

    Prior to this faulty project’s start up we searched far and wide for data on potential toxic pollution of test water used to flush out and test new pipelines. Little information is out there and now we know why. If memory serves us right, Kinder Morgan/TGP led everyone to believe the water would be harmless. Now we find not only is that water not harmless but that KM/TGP has lied about other aspects of the project as well. Welcome to Corporate America, where “alternative facts” are new and improved!

  3. Robert Heinzman says:

    Just to note, having worked in my youth as an environmental geochemist on similar contamination issues, this is a serious lapse on the part of Kinder Morgan. Granted, I’d need to see water analyses to understand what is going on chemically, but here’s the thing: this is not rocket science. Given that Kinder Morgan is in the business of building pipelines, hence are well-schooled in effluent regs and a basic understanding of pipe-water chemistry, either the project managers acted with impunity or ignorance. My guess is probably it’s a mix. My guess is that somebody did not ask the $1000 question: how will the chemistry of the water in Spectacle Pond (the acidity, in particular) interact with the pipe liner? Perfectly conceivable that mechanical engineers without sufficient chemistry training would do this. Anyway, they reported it or got caught, and it’s going to cost them a whole lot more than $1000. So this leaves me wondering if the people managing this have been given the budget and authority – or have the competency – to comply with basic environmental safeguards and regulations. It’s not looking like it.

  4. Laura Grunfeld says:

    Thank you to the neighbors, the watchdogs, and the protesters who have been paying attention, speaking up, and demonstrating. And thank you to the reporters and photographers who keep us informed.

  5. Mike says:

    From bad to worse…why am I not surprised by any of this?

  6. George Grumbach says:

    Imagine how little enforcement by the EPA there will be after the Trump administration completes its emasculation of the agency.

  7. Grier Horner says:

    Extraordinary reporting Mary Douglas.

  8. Karen says:

    This is a travesty and KM should be fined for billions! They have lied to everyone throughout the process, while many activitists warned for THREE YEARS that any water put through a pipe to “test” it would pick up all the solvents that coat the inside of a pipe.
    This beautiful, formerly pristine and sacred site is yet one more Sacrifice Zone. May we hereby prevent any further damage to our land, our water and our lives.

  9. Michele says:

    And where are all those noisy supporters of the pipeline now? Left holding the bag of ignorance and foul language they came in with.

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