April 2020 Vol. 75 No. 4



Industry Events Postponed Due to Coronavirus

Industry events that had been planned throughout the United States this spring were postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of them waiting to reschedule when more is known about the breadth and duration of its spread.

The postponements mostly followed CONEXPO 2020, which drew smaller crowds to Las Vegas, Nev., in early April than usual and was cut short as the seriousness of the U.S. threat became more apparent and commanded the public’s attention.

The NASTT No-Dig show, originally scheduled for April 5–9 in Denver, Colo., was postponed amid concerns over the pandemic. As with most others, the organization has not provided a new date for the event.

“Our community has experienced significant impacts over the past few weeks which have escalated in the last 72 hours and include corporate travels bans, government travel bans, venues closing, and public events and gatherings postponed in order to protect the health and wellness of our citizens,” NASTT said in a statement issued on March 17.

The NACE Board of Directors voted March 5 to postpone its annual CORROSION 2020 conference and expo in Houston after initial reports of coronavirus cases in the metro area. The event has been rescheduled for June 14–18 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.

“NACE is working with all conference venues and vendors to ensure the process of moving CORROSION 2020 to June goes as smoothly as possible,” NACE said in its announcement.

The Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) has cancelled its Safety Congress for 2020. The program planned for this year will carry over to March 29–31, 2021, at the Hyatt Regency Austin. DCA also postponed its joint workshop with the American Gas Association until June 28–July 1, 2020. All DCA events scheduled after July 1 are on their original schedules, including the Mid-Year Meeting in Asheville and the Fall Meeting in Seattle.

“Hopefully, by then some normalcy will return to the world,” said Robert Darden, DCA’s executive vice president, wrote to the organization’s membership. “If not, we will make the appropriate moves to keep our members safe and our events viable.”

The American Petroleum Institute said it decided to cancel all of its meetings and conferences through at least May 1. Gulf Energy Information and Pipeline & Gas Journal also plan to reschedule their first Pipeline Opportunities Conference EMEA 2020, originally set for June 2 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

“We are confident that a date later in the year will be more beneficial for the integrity of the conference and a safer environment for all those associated with the event,” said Andy McDowell, vice president, Upstream & Midstream, at Gulf Energy Information


Corrosion Blamed for 2018 Canadian Pipeline Blast

An explosion and fire in 2018 along an Enbridge Inc natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia was caused by corrosion, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said.

The pipeline operated by Enbridge subsidiary Westcoast Energy ruptured on Oct. 9, 2018, in a forested area near Prince George, British Columbia. No one was injured, but the blast led to the evacuation of 125 people and a temporary shutdown of the line, disrupting supplies to the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The TSB said in a report that polyethylene tape used to protect the pipeline’s surface had deteriorated, allowing moisture underneath and cracks from corrosion to develop. The board, an independent agency that reports to Parliament, said it had investigated three other ruptures since 2002 with a similar cause, all on TC Energy lines.

The section of line was last inspected 10 years before the blast and was scheduled for inspection the week the incident occurred, a spokesperson said. Enbridge has since begun integrity assessments of all its gas pipelines in North America, adopted newer tools to detect problems, expanded inspection criteria and increased scheduled excavations to examine pipelines.


Eversource to Acquire Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Assets for $1.1 Billion

Eversource Energy announced that it has reached an agreement to purchase the Massachusetts natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion from NiSource.

The acquisition will bring Columbia Gas operations in Massachusetts under local ownership by the largest energy company in New England.

Columbia Gas currently serves 330,000 natural gas customers in more than 60 communities in Massachusetts. Eversource has 300,000 natural gas customers and 1.5 million electric customers in 51 communities across the commonwealth. Many communities that Columbia Gas serves with natural gas already receive electric service from Eversource.

Under the asset purchase agreement, liabilities related to the September 2018 gas distribution incidents in the Merrimack Valley will remain the responsibility of Columbia Gas’s current parent company, NiSource. The transaction, which requires approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and the U.S. Justice Department, is projected to close by September.


Judge Approves $143M Natural Gas Explosions Settlement

A Massachusetts judge approved a $143 million class-action settlement for residents and business owners affected by natural gas explosions in Massachusetts in 2018.

The deal is separate from a $53 million criminal fine — the largest ever imposed for breaking a federal pipeline safety law – set after Columbia Gas of Massachusetts pleaded guilty to causing the explosions that killed one person, injured dozens of others and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings. It also is separate from an $80 million accord it struck with the three communities.

The settlement came shortly before NiSource agreed to sell the Columbia Gas unit to Eversource.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded last year that Columbia Gas poorly planned a routine pipeline replacement project in Lawrence, causing natural gas over-pressurization that led to the explosions and fires in homes and businesses on Sept. 13, 2018.

The board also determined that the utility inadequately responded to the disaster, which resulted in a prolonged recovery effort in which residents and businesses were without natural gas service for heat or hot water, sometimes for months through the winter.

The class action settlement is separate from those reached with two Lawrence families, including the family of Leonel Rondon, the
18-year-old who died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s home.


Fort Lauderdale Fined Nearly $2 Million for String of Sewer Leaks

The state of Florida is fining the city of Fort Lauderdale $1.8 million for a series of massive sewage spills that have sent toxic sewage onto streets and into waterways since December.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Mayor Dean Trantalis notifying him of the fine, the South Florida SunSentinel reported. The mayor had hoped for no fine at all, so that the money could be invested instead in fixing the faulty pipes.

“The state should realize the problems all of its cities have (with aging sewer pipes),” Trantalis told the newspaper. “Fort Lauderdale is not alone.”

But Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the environmental agency’s secretary, Noah Valenstein, to pursue every available penalty. “Those that spew untreated wastewater into Florida’s water bodies need to be deterred from doing so by appropriate penalties,” DeSantis said.

The fines include $341,500 for recent sewage spills, a civil penalty of nearly $1.5 million and $5,000 in administrative costs.

Officials said 212 million gallons (800 million liters) of sewage has flowed into waterways and neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale since December. The first string of leaks began on Dec. 10 and continued through Dec. 31. A total of six leaks spilled over 126 million gallons of sewage across the city. Another spill totaling 84.7 million gallons occurred between Jan. 30 and Feb. 8 from a single 42-inch pipe.


N.C. Rural Communities Get Over $2 Million for Water Infrastructure

The North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) has approved grant requests to local governments in excess of $2.5 million to improve and update water and sewer infrastructure.

The state’s Department of Commerce team of rural economic development professionals supports the RIA’s work. RIA members review and approve funding requests from local communities.

Funding comes from a variety of specialized grant and loan programs offered and managed by N.C. Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division.

The RIA approved five requests under the state’s Industrial Development Fund–Utility Account program for projects in Elizabethtown (Bladen County), Craven County and Cumberland County totaling $2,547, 971.

“Rural North Carolina needs investments in water and sewer systems…,” said Governor Cooper.


EPA Announces $40 Million Water Infrastructure Loan to Toho Water Authority

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a $40 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan to the Toho Water Authority in Kissimmee, Florida.

Toho Water Authority will repair, rehabilitate and replace sewer mains, sewer lines and manholes, including 65 wastewater pumping station basins and over 900,000 feet of gravity mains. The project will mitigate emergency failures such as sanitary sewer overflows that result from problems with the current infrastructure. 

This project—referred to as the Accelerated Gravity Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation project—will cost $81.9 million. EPA’s WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of that figure—up to $40.1 million. The WIFIA loan will save the Toho Water Authority an estimated $7.9 million compared to typical bond financing. Project construction and operation are expected to create 198 jobs.


U.S. Senate Confirms Danly to FERC, Widening Republican Majority

The U.S. Senate easily confirmed James Danly as a Republican member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, widening the Republican majority on the panel.

The vote was 54–40, with Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Doug Jones and Kyrsten Sinema joining Republicans to support Danly, who has been the commission’s general counsel.

FERC, an independent office of the Department of Energy that regulates interstate transmission of electricity and natural gas and oil, now has a 3–1 Republican majority. That is expected to narrow in coming months as commission member Bernard McNamee said in January he would step down when his term ends at the end of June.

Manchin said he would not support another Republican “no matter how well qualified, when the next Republican vacancy arises later this year, unless (President Donald Trump) sends us a nomination for the vacant Democratic seat as well.”

If McNamee steps down in June without a new nominee being approved, FERC will lose its quorum, or ability to vote on issues. Trump nominated Danly to fill a vacancy after the 2019 death of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre. Danly’s term will expire on June 30, 2023.


Ameren Illinois Continues to Modernize With $8.5 Million Gas System Projects

Ameren Illinois said it will spend $8.5 million on additional system modernization projects for completion in October, replacing 80,000 feet of aging cast-iron natural gas pipeline in the Springfield and San Jose areas.

Ameren Illinois said its crews will be removing mechanically coupled, vintage steel natural gas mains and services and replacing them with corrosion-resistant polyethylene infrastructure that is less prone to shifting as the ground freezes and thaws.

The Collinsville, Illinois-based utility said it also will upgrade the pipelines to the homes of nearly 1,200 individual natural gas customers.

The largest project will be in the Village of Grandview, where more than 420 services will be upgraded, and 18,800 feet of pipeline will be installed. In the Northgate subdivision, crews are already working to install 15,000 feet of polyethylene pipe and 250 services to homes. Starting in late April, crews will install 26,250 feet of polyethylene pipe and 200-plus services for the Village of San Jose.

The Springfield and San Jose projects are part of Ameren Illinois’ plan to replace nearly 600 miles of mechanically coupled steel natural gas distribution pipelines in central and southern Illinois.


API Issues New Pipeline Safety and Sustainability Standard

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has issued a new standard for pipeline inspectors to enhance safety and sustainability during pipeline construction.

“The new inspection standard demonstrates the industry’s commitment to building energy infrastructure that is safe and environmentally protective,” Global Industry Services Senior Vice President Debra Phillips said. “Additional emphasis has been placed on building communication and rapport between operators, inspectors and contractors to not only create effective working relationships between the parties, but also drive a culture of safety throughout pipeline construction.”

The pipeline standard updates the issues that pipeline inspectors should review when overseeing each phase of a pipeline’s construction. While the first edition of the standard concentrated on new pipeline construction, the second edition expands the scope of covered activities to cover all pipeline construction along the right of way, including repairs and excavations of existing lines.

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