DCP Midstream Partners is seeking permits to build in Searsport the largest liquefied petroleum gas import terminal and storage tank on the East Coast of the United States. During recent hearings before the Searsport Planning Board, DCP assured us an accident could never happen. This is absurd because it completely contradicts their abysmal safety record as well as the many dangers inherent in such an operation.
This massive and extremely hazardous project would be wedged into a well-developed neighborhood, surrounded by other businesses and residences. A restaurant, motel and homes are less than 500 feet away; a score of others are within the Environmental Protection Agency’s half-mile blast zone; and hundreds of us live within the two-mile vapor cloud and thermal hazard zone identified by the U.S. Coast Guard.
After hearing DCP’s statements that their operation would pose no threat to our area, I researched the company’s track record and discovered pages of safety and environmental violations.
In 2008, DCP Midstream agreed to a $60.8 million settlement with New Mexico’s environmental department to resolve 4,777 violations of air quality permits in three DCP plants over five years. The facilities’ flares were in violation 648 times. Two years later, one of DCP’s plants was again in violation of the Clean Air Act for “unpermitted release of extremely hazardous substances; specifically, methane and propane.”
The Environmental Protection Agency ECHO website shows that in the past five years 35 DCP facilities in the West and Midwest were assessed penalties; 27 are currently in violation; and 9 of those are in “significant violation.” These violations are mostly for leaks of methane and propane through compressor station units, valves, vents, hatches and flanges.
The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality website shows 59 administrative orders for violations at DCP Midstream facilities since 2001. In 2011 and 2012, DCP was fined $1,046,315 and $631,628 respectively. There were also seven separate cases before the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration for DCP Midstream’s failure to comply with required safety inspections of pipelines. DCP did not respond to the notice but just sent money to cover the fine.
In Maine, a federal jury issued a verdict in 2009 against DCP Midstream for retaliation in a racial discrimination lawsuit at DCP’s Auburn LPG plant. DCP downgraded a worker with “false accusations” and fired him while “failing to terminate another operator guilty of multiple serious safety violations,” according to Bloomberg News.
Contrary to DCP’s assurances, LPG Industry research shows human error is inevitable. There will be leaks. Companies, including DCP, are fined continuously for safety and environmental violations, and accidents have occurred in their facilities and pipelines. In Texas in June 2012 a worker was injured in an explosion near a shut off DCP pipeline. Residual gas was ignited by a running engine, which burned along with three service trucks.
Historically the domino effect of smaller leaks and accidents has led to major explosions. DCP says the worst-case scenario — a single catastrophic failure — is virtually impossible. Yet, it has happened before.
In 1977 an 11-million gallon refrigerated LPG storage tank in Qatar (half the size proposed for Searsport) failed and sent a wave of propane over the dikes that blew up an entire refinery in an eight-day fire costing $179 million.
In Mexico City in 1984, a small pipe ruptured when filling a storage tank at an LPG terminal. A gas cloud ignited, which led to a series of multiple explosions. Five hundred and fifty people died; thousands suffered burn injuries; and countless homes and businesses were destroyed.
In Siberia in 1989, an LPG pipeline leak formed a large propane vapor cloud that drifted five miles before it was ignited by sparks from two passenger trains. The ball of fire from the explosion was a mile wide. Trees were flattened for 2.5 miles and windows broken eight miles away. A total of 462 people died; 796 were hospitalized, with 70- to 80-percent burns.
Yes, catastrophic failure is rare, but the Journal of Loss Prevention acknowledged that tank accidents still occur. Winds here could direct hazardous gas toward an ignition source anywhere. That is why DCP has put all the liability for the proposed Searsport facility in a limited liability company — to shield the parent company and their shareholders from the risks they expect us to accept. And DCP has never done a risk assessment for the tank and terminal, nor have they, or any local agencies, provided an emergency response plan.
Permitting agencies should review DCP’s proposal assuming an accident will happen and not take on faith statements from DCP’s paid “experts.” DCP has a track record of bending truths, breaking laws, falsifying records and paying fines as a routine cost of doing business. They would imperil our lives for corporate profit. These hearings make abundantly clear DCP cannot be trusted.
Tara Hollander of Stockton Springs is a classical pianist who has performed internationally as a soloist and with her husband, Lorin Hollander.