By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Last year, a natural gas pipeline being constructed through Southwestern Pennsylvania garnered the attention of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, who then notified federal agencies in charge of regulating pipelines and other environmental concerns.
In a February 2020 letter to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Pa. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote that issues “pose a possible threat of product release, landslide, or even explosion.” According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, McDonnell mentioned witnesses with “first-hand knowledge of bad corrosion coatings, falsification of records and reports, retaliatory firings and other actions by Shell,” who owns the Falcon Pipeline.
This led PHMSA to conduct an investigation into the pipeline, which is currently ongoing.
The Falcon Pipeline will run 98 miles through Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio and will deliver ethane to the cracker plant in Beaver County, which will refine the natural gas liquid into plastic pellets. When completed, oil giant Shell will run both the Falcon Pipeline and the cracker plant.
The investigation is focused on possible noncompliance of public safety requirements during construction of the pipeline and an alleged cover up of incidents that could put the public at risk, according to the FracTracker Alliance, an advocacy organization that obtained documents in connection to the investigation. FracTracker Alliance is particularly concerned with allegations of corrosion of the Falcon Pipelines, as corrosion failure is the second leading cause of incidents occurring on pipelines.
“Residents of the Ohio River Valley know too well the serious and life-threatening impacts that have come from rushed pipeline construction in the wake of the fracking buildout,” says Erica Jackson of FracTracker Alliance in a press release. “We hope that regulators will take all necessary action to protect public welfare and bring justice for workers who may have been unfairly terminated.”
A spokesperson for Shell confirmed to the Post-Gazette that federal officials conducted audits of the Falcon Pipeline and said PHMSA officials “found no issues with installed coatings.” Shell said it also completed inspection of all the welds as an effort to prevent corrosion, and installed more emergency shutoff valves than necessary and buried the pipeline deeper than and used a thicker pipe than federally mandated.