Negligence, not arson, may be culprit at compressor station

| 11 Aug 2015 | 05:04

Editor's note: The following statement was issued on Sunday night.

Late last night, an explosion and fire occurred at the Milford Compressor Station construction site. We at Energy Justice Network are very glad that no one was hurt or injured.

Columbia’s security personnel told concerned residents on Fire Tower Road that the fire was the result of a contractor leaving an arc welder on or plugged in inside a building. We hope investigators will pursue that lead before concluding it was an arson attack.

We believe a worker negligence scenario should be fully investigated by both the company and state police, especially because work continues at the compressor station daily. There may be a need to re-train or review safety procedures with pipeline contractor employees. This is important for the safety of workers, residents, and first responders.

It is plausible, at the end of the workday Saturday, in a hurry or a lapse of judgment, the workers did not shut the equipment down properly. Workers at that site have been working from dawn to dusk most days since the wintertime and it is possible exhaustion has numbed their awareness of workplace safety. If it is determined that exhaustion contributed to this incident, Columbia and its contractors should, at the very least, offer workers more paid time off.

This incident also highlights the urgent need for an emergency management plan for the compressor and the three interconnected transmission pipelines at that location. Residents living along Fire Tower Road should never again have to hear an explosion, see emergency vehicles rushing to the location, and wonder whether they should shelter in their homes or evacuate. Phone calls to Columbia's emergency line either went unanswered, or were not helpful.

An emergency management plan is one of the four remedies that have been presented to Columbia during residents' ongoing Environmental Hearing Board appeal's technical settlement negotiations, although no formal agreement has been reached. We hope the company's deficient emergency response to this incident will inform the settlement discussions in a productive way.

Columbia and their supporters' allusions to opposition groups as the culprit is the least likely scenario until the state police release the findings of an investigation proving otherwise. The goal of Energy Justice Network and the local residents involved in Stop the Milford Compressor Station Expansion has always been to eliminate risks to health and safety, not to instill fear in the hearts and minds of Fire Tower Road residents. We wish we could say the same for Columbia.

Finally, in the planning of this project, Columbia has flagrantly ignored Milford Township's residential zoning, the opposition of its neighbors, and their own industry's best construction standards to protect environmental health. The $80,000 of fire damages reported in the news fades in comparison to the losses of property value and public health Milford area residents will bear once the compressor is online and pumping the equivalent of a fleet of diesel school buses' emissions into the air.

Alex Lotorto
Shale Gas Program Coordinator

Energy Justice Network