Journalism in the Public Interest

Feds Say Major New York Gas Pipeline Poses Safety Risk

A recent inspection of a natural gas pipeline stretching across New York found that sections may have been installed without proper evaluation. Without changes, the pipeline could be at risk of rupturing.


A file image of a sign indicating the location of the Millennium Pipeline in Hancock, N.Y., on Dec. 14, 2009. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

A major natural gas pipeline stretching across southern New York may be at risk of rupturing and poses a safety threat, according to a recent inspection by federal regulators.

The pipeline's owner, Millennium Pipeline Co., has reduced pressure on the line, lessening the risk of explosion, but there are concerns that its problems may extend beyond a leak spotted by workers in January.

The leak resulted from a faulty weld that hadn't passed an inspection but was installed anyway, a review by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found. An order issued by the agency

first reported Wednesday by, a website that tracks gas pipeline safetysaid other sections of the pipeline also appear to have been installed without proper evaluation.

"Other welds with similar defects may also develop leaks and potentially lead to a rupture of the pipeline," the order says.

Damon Hill, a spokesman for the safety administration, said the pipeline's operator, Columbia Gas Transmission, has until the end of the year to inspect the line and fix problems.

Theresa Gibbon, a spokeswoman for Millennium Pipeline Co., confirmed the company is working with federal regulators but would not specify what measures it is taking.

The Millennium pipeline cuts through New York's southern tier and is a potential end point of a number of proposed pipelines carrying gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. It passes through several towns along its route.

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert and consultant, said an explosion on the line could be significantly larger than the one that killed eight people in San Bruno, Calif., in September because the Millennium operates at more than double the pressure, even after the recent reduction.

The San Bruno blast was the most deadly in a series of high-profile oil and gas pipeline accidents that have drawn attention to a lax regulatory system. A December investigation by the news organization Remapping Debate found that regulation of more than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines across the country is largely left to the companies that operate the lines. One recent report showed that these companies have funded and shaped most of the safety studies that guide federal regulation.

The number of major accidents has more or less held steady in recent years. Still, Carl Weimer, executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, an advocacy group, said the problems with the Millennium line, along with some of the recent accidents, raise questions about whether the regulatory system is breaking down.

"As we allow the companies to do their own inspection and their own engineering to decide how to deal with pipelines in the ground, the question arises, do they have enough information," he said. "This is another case where it seems like, oops, they messed up."

Stephanie Palmer

Aug. 5, 2011, 2:49 p.m.

I would suggest that because of the extensive environmental damage that can be done by these pipelines, that if inferior work or lack of inspections, etc. is proven, that the officials at the time of the work be jailed.  This is serious business, not like the wall street bankers - the damage they did was clearly not important enough.

The leak resulted from a faulty weld that hadn’t passed an inspection but was installed anyway

You failed to mention that this fault was caught during inspection and that it was set aside and its use on the pipeline was inadvertent. You also faield to mention that it was Columbia, not a federal or state inspector, who discovered and reported the leak to the authorities.

One recent report showed that these companies have funded and shaped most of the safety studies that guide federal regulation

Are you insinuating that the standards for pipeline construction/testing/inspection are somehow tainted because individuals from the industry write them? The individuals who sit on the standard boards collectively represent hundreds of years in fairly narrow technical specialties directly related to the process. I would like to hear you elaborate on what specific portions of the various API codes you think are deficient (there are several pertaining to pipeline construction governing everything from material of construction, valveing, installation, sizing, inspection, etcetera). What would you, the bright and well educated Nicholas Kusnetz, change about ASTM E164-03, API 1104, or ASME B-31.3. What specific code deficiencies have you observed from your decades of designing, specifying, building, and operating pipelines?

Inquiring minds want to know.

“... elaborate on what specific portions of the various API codes you think are deficient…”. ” its use on the pipeline was inadvertent.”

“Inadvertent” or someone “looked the other way”. There is no way to ascertain whether the company is being truthful about this. After all, we live in an age where everyone lies as a matter of course. I’m not buyin’ the “inadvertent” angle.

Excuse me, but there WAS a leak, was there not? Someone, somewhere has to answer for this. It doesn’t matter what codes or standards apply. Somebody screwed up. Gas at transmission line pressures is serious stuff.

As long as we continue to have leaks/explosions, questions WILL be raised- as they should be. At least no one died- this time.

Mike H’s comments are more than just interesting and informative..
They imply more than being the comments of a casual reader.. but of someone with a legal background and a definitive interest in whitewashing or absolving the companies involved from potential liability. His comments strike me as an attempt to establish the pipeline companies’ management purity and virginity…. But… for what purpose or reason….???

For myself… I am a casual.. curious… reader who has little faith in the virginity and purity of energy corporations.


Aug. 5, 2011, 5:09 p.m.

we ur going to the best world


Aug. 5, 2011, 5:13 p.m.

Mike H: Me thinks thou doth protest too much.


Aug. 5, 2011, 5:23 p.m.




Mike H raises a valid point, one which stands at the heart of the debate over regulation of oil & gas drilling. Typically industry leads the way in the development of new technologies. They become the “experts,” and governmental regulators are dependent on their expertise to create relevant regulations. On the other hand, the companies have a very strong financial incentive to remove themselves from liability, and therefore to encourage, or actually write themselves, weak regulations. Hence, the system is fundamentally flawed.
The explosion of the Deep Water Horizon last year illustrates how this flawed system can have catastrophic consequences. Drilling through five miles of open water to get to gas and oil trapped a mile further below the seabed was an extremely risky venture for which government regulators were ill-equipped. It looks like the oil industry was ill-equipped as well.

I apologize if I missed the date when that pipeline was first laid if someone had it on a post. But I remember as a young boy growing up in a WV village called Rock Lick in southern Marshall County! That was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s and we use to get excited because a Texaco Eastern helicopter used to fly over a farmers field over the hill behind our house checking the pipeline out that was laid by them. It was for natural gas and I never knew what the farmer got paid for those land rights. But when I see what is happening today I just didn’t think about the deterioration of our infrastructure back then and definitely never thought what a price we would pay some day! It seems surreal now because it seemed to me as a young child that it was some spectacular event that I didn’t even need to leave my backyard to see.

Mike H. and Don Hughes each raise interesting points. Two issues are at stake: 1) The integrity of the managing company (and, as with BP, those contractors that it manages), and 2) its willingness to invest in (i.e. spend money toward) acquisition and use of technical and scientific knowledge. Often, such investments must be intermediate- to long-range, beyond the scope of financially oriented officers. More information about the company’s management philosophy and history might shed some light.

I live a few miles away from a neighborhood that the Millenium Pipeline passes through. Whenever I drive or bike through this neighborhood, I am shocked by how close to homes the pipeline is. The pipeline is separated from one home by just a little bit more than the width of the home’s driveway. It passes right through the back yards of other homes in the neighborhood—and these are not large back yards. This is a rural area, and I think they could have re-routed the pipeline to avoid these homes, but they didn’t.

As to the two issues at stake:

1.Faulty welded sections were installed. If this was a mistake, many people were involved. If this was by design, then codes were not adhered to and documents had to be falsified. Either way, due to incompetence or due to corporate malfeasance there is no doubt about the so-called integrity of the company.

2.Long-range investing, management philosophy, technical knowledge, etc. might be useful to peer into the future but the fact of the matter is this leak event is past-tense. The only future-tense issue is finding out how large the fines will be.

I find it interesting that when a serious breach of a public safety is uncovered there are those that attempt to sugar-coat the issue. It makes me wonder if those individuals are share-holders.

When the Millenium was being installed a few years ago Colombia lied to all the municipalities pretending they wouldn’t be able to afford the upgrade unless they got huge tax exemptions, which they did.  They never mentioned the lucrative Marcellus Shale play that they knew was coming but the public was still unaware of. This bunch doesn’t know how to tell the truth and I am worried for all my neighbors living next to the line.

....and Millennium promised many more local jobs than ever materialized and their trucks messed up the roads.

“This bunch doesn’t know how to tell the truth…”

Exactly! Corporations have to be watched more closely than a two year-old toddler running around the house.

Ever heard of Blenheim?  Located just south of Schoharie County’s Middleburgh, the place was ripped by a propane explosion, with loss of life,as a result of a pipeline that was leaking. 
Rural disasters disappear into the black hole of social apathy. 
Do the research.  You don’t have to leave your chair or your keyboard.  How many explosions and deaths around the nation are attributable to propane?
and by the way, why is it necessary to ban hydrofracking in the new york city watershed, but it’s ok elsewhere?  Are we chopped liver here in the boonies?

Andrew Cuomo states he will drill 85% of the Marcellus shale and I presume the remaining 15% are in Syracuse and around NYC.

So he wants to recover every bit of the radioactive Marcellus that is 100 feet thick in places.  He has NOT build one single water treatment plant that will accept the flow back water with radioactivity and heavy metals as well as a cocktail of frack chemicals.

I suggest that the taxpayers get back those tax subsidies of gas companies that all they do is advertise and lie day and night on TV.

Lets create real jobs building those unsexy water treatment plants and sewage plants and proper roads for the expensive truck traffic with those billions of subsidy money and THEN—you can drill and get polluted water but not before.

And stop thinking we are going to drill all of Marcellus—of course we want those wineries in the Fingerlakes and the Breweries and maple syrup farms and organic farms and good hunting for deer that has not been drinking frack fluid—-tourism creates 40 billion dollars.

so everything in moderation—do a couple of wells and do them well .

Get a US House in 2012 that will pay attention to people rather than lobbyists.  Kick out those that showed themselves to be unable to come to the table for a routine debt increase during a serious time in our country and who have not gone to the mat on jobs or the environment—you can do both: example : those sewage pipes…...

Another problem with the fox guarding the chicken coop!!  And this is why we want to downgrade regulations for these types of companies?  Is our government insane (afraid to answer that one).

Alan, do you have any more info on millenium.  I just found out that they are building a gas compression station on my road.  If so please post or email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I don’t know to whom I am writing about the pipeline or where you live, but I don’t have any more info on it.  I haven’t heard about any compression stations on any roads in New York, where I am.  Sorry.

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