Pipeline safeguards don’t work in Louisiana diesel spill

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 shows cleanup work at the site where more than 300,000 gallons of diesel spilled on Dec. 27, 2021, just outside New Orleans.  A corroded pipeline that ruptured and spilled 350,000 gallons of diesel fuel in a New Orleans wetland did not have a fully functioning leak detection system at the time, according to federal records that show also that the spill was larger than expected.  (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality via AP, File)

FILE – This undated photo provided by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 shows cleanup work at the site where more than 300,000 gallons of diesel spilled on Dec. 27, 2021, just outside New Orleans. A corroded pipeline that ruptured and spilled 350,000 gallons of diesel fuel in a New Orleans wetland did not have a fully functioning leak detection system at the time, according to federal records that show also that the spill was larger than expected. (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality via AP, File)

PA

A corroded pipeline that ruptured and spilled 350,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of diesel fuel in a New Orleans wetland did not have a fully functioning leak detection system at the time , according to federal records, which also show the spill was larger than before. reported.

Two of three components of a leak detection system for the 16-inch (40 centimeter) pipeline failed to sound alarms as they were supposed to when it broke just east of the New Orleans on Dec. 27, 2021, Collins Pipeline Company disclosed in an accident report submitted to federal regulators.

The third part of the system worked as expected and issued an alarm, according to the report. From information provided by the company, it was unclear when this alarm went off or if the parts of the system that malfunctioned caused a delay in its response.

Early detection of pipeline ruptures is crucial to containing environmental damage. Yet delivering systems that can do this reliably has been a long-standing challenge for the industry.

Collins, a Mississippi subsidiary of PBF Energy Inc., based in Parsippany, New Jersey, reported the spill to authorities about eight hours after workers shut down the 42-year-old Meraux Pipeline a few miles from the company’s refinery in Chalmette. According to federal records, company personnel turned it off when they noticed a change in pressure and flow meter readings indicated a problem.

The company’s report says the spill detection system did not help identify the spill.

Collins initially estimated that only 8,400 gallons (38,200 liters) of diesel was released, then updated a few days later to just over 300,000 gallons (1.4 million liters). On Jan. 27, the company raised its estimate again, to 350,000 gallons, according to the accident report.

The diesel spilled into two man-made ponds and killed thousands of fish and dozens of birds, turtles, alligators and other animals. Most of the fuel was recovered, but the accident caused property damage estimated at $3.8 million, according to the company.

Problems with computerized systems meant to guard against pipeline spills have long plagued the industry, including a faulty system in an accident last year that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil offshore. of the southern California coast. In 2010, an Enbridge Inc. pipeline spilled at least 843,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of crude in 17 hours into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, even as numerous alarms went off in a room. corporate control, but were ignored.

The Michigan crash prompted tougher leak detection rules under President Barack Obama, but they were never finalized. A pipeline safety rule proposed in 2020 under President Donald Trump did not set standards for leak detection, giving companies wiggle room in what they install.

“There are no standards for how sensitive, accurate, rugged or reliable they need to be,” said Bill Caram of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Wash.-based group that has lobbied for a stricter industry regulations. “I can’t help but assume that leaks would be detected much faster and the impact on people and the environment would be greatly reduced if operators’ leak detection systems were held to some sort of standard.”

PBF Energy did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages regarding the faulty leak detection system and the revised volume estimate.

The company told federal authorities it was investigating whether the pipeline’s control room or personnel there contributed to the spill.

The company said external corrosion was the cause of the spill, which happened at the same location where an October 2020 inspection found extensive corrosion along a 22-foot (7-meter) section of pipe. . The line continued to operate after a second inspection concluded the corrosion was not severe enough to require immediate repair under federal rules.

The line was repaired after the spill and resumed transporting fuel in early January.

A federal investigation into the spill is ongoing by officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Agency officials had no immediate response Monday to the company’s disclosure of problems with the leak detection system, spokesman Darius Kirkwood said.

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Brown reported from Billings, Montana.

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