Coalition requests federal intervention for Vermont pipeline safety

The Vermont Gas pipeline project in Hinesburg, and elsewhere in the state, has been at times controversial. Photo by Boston Neary
The Vermont Gas pipeline project in Hinesburg, and elsewhere in the state, has been at times controversial.
Photo by Boston Neary

In a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx dated Oct. 15, a coalition of Vermont groups including Protect Geprags Park and Vermonters for a Clean Environment, among others, has requested federal intervention regarding Vermont’s intrastate pipeline safety.

In the letter, the coalition requests: 1. That the federal agency step in to take over monitoring and enforcement of Vermont’s intrastate pipeline; 2. An investigation of Vermont’s “intrastate pipeline safety monitoring and enforcement” oversight, covering the timespan since January 2014; and 3. That the agency suspend the state’s pipeline safety program (which is federally funded), as well as reject the Department of Public Service’s (DPS) pending certification.

In the letter and its included documentation, or in a concomitant release, the group details allegations of various safety risks and failures on Vermont Gas Systems Inc.’s (VGS) part, as well as alleged failure to have required written specifications, and to provide an onsite technical expert during construction near transmission wires. The materials also discuss DPS’s role in this matter, including allegedly allowing VGS’s work on the Addison Natural Gas Project to continue without proper plans.

Asked to comment, VGS Communications Manager Beth Parent said in part, “Our Vermont Gas teams take the issue of safety very seriously and continue to work hard to ensure the safety of contractors, employees and the public. Regardless of what project opponents claim, this project has been safely constructed, meeting or exceeding applicable federal and state pipeline safety standards.” Parent added, “We welcome all safety inspections and safety discussions with our regulators at the state or federal level.”

Parent also stated, “If it weren’t for this small group (of individuals wishing to stop the project), this Project would be in service and residents in Addison County would be able to choose natural gas this heating season.”
U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Public Affairs Specialist Susan Hand said, “PHMSA has received the letter. We’re reviewing the letter now, we will investigate all concerns raised, and we will respond appropriately.”

State of Vermont DPS Commissioner Christopher Recchia noted, “I feel like we have done a very good job of monitoring public safety during the course of this project.” He added, “We did notice some potential violations, but at no time was public safety at risk.” Recchia also noted that “we’ve had inspectors out every day monitoring this project”, adding that there are regular annual reviews by PHMSA, and any additional reviews are welcome.