Searsmont gas pumping station undergoes emergency shutdown New Year’s Eve, vents into air

Posted Jan. 01, 2014, at 12:55 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 02, 2014, at 4:44 p.m.

SEARSMONT, Maine — Bruce Brierley was reading at his Searsmont home late Tuesday night when suddenly the midnight peace was shattered by a very loud noise coming from the vicinity of the natural gas compressor station, located about a mile away.

“It sounded like a jet plane going over extremely low. I could hear it very loudly, like three, four or five jet planes,” he said. “My daughter and son-in-law live very close [to the station]. Their house was vibrating. They were scared.”

Brierley, a Searsmont selectman, said that loud noises late at night coming from the pumping station make residents feel nervous.

Other residents of Searsmont and surrounding towns posted information on Facebook about the sudden New Year’s Eve noise.

“If you have any friends or family in the area, I would call and check on them,” one Belmont man wrote. “Hope it is OK. Can’t be good.”

But an official from Houston-based Spectra Energy said Wednesday morning that the noise was nothing to worry about.

“It was not an explosion,” Susan Waller said.

Instead, sensors at the Searsmont compressor station on the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline detected an equipment malfunction, and anytime that happens, the facility undergoes an automatic emergency shutdown. A pressure valve vented the gas outside of the station.

“Each time we detect anything that could potentially be of concern, it automatically vents the natural gas into the air,” Waller, a vice president at Spectra Energy, said. “That is what the neighbors heard.”

The venting began at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday and lasted until 12:37 a.m. Wednesday. Waller said that the company hasn’t yet determined the cause of the gas release, but are looking into a connection between the recent cold snap and the equipment malfunction. She said that the company has Maine and federal permits to do this kind of emergency gas venting and will report the amount that was emitted from the compressor station.

The gas along the 390-mile pipeline is carried from ports in Atlantic Canada to customers in New England and to connect with other pipelines that extend throughout the United States. Compressor stations are located every 70 miles and serve to push the gas through the pipeline, Waller said.

Alarmed residents of Searsmont, Belmont and other communities called Waldo County police dispatchers to alert them of the loud noise. The Searsmont Fire Department went to the pumping station, but engineers working at Spectra Energy’s control center in Texas noticed the pressure drop in Maine moments after it occurred and immediately began working to figure out the problem, Waller said.

She said that after the compressor station emergency shutdown, the problem was isolated and the pipeline was put back online. The Searsmont compressor station, however, remained out-of-service while officials looked for the reason for the equipment malfunction.

“There’s been no impact to service and everything is running,” she said. “The way that the pipeline’s set up, it has enough natural gas to take care of any lag. There was no service interruption.”

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story requires clarification. The station remains shut down after a New Year’s Eve gas venting that happened after sensors detected an equipment malfunction.

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