State seeks $25K Vermont Gas fine
SOUTH BURLINGTON — Vermont Gas, the natural gas utility owned by Canadian fossil fuel giant Énergir (formerly known as Gaz Métro), has likely buried an Addison County gas pipeline improperly, regulators said last week in a filing with the Public Utility Commission (PUC).
The Department of Public Service has asked the PUC to assess a $25,000 fine against Vermont Gas for failing to bury the pipeline according to the standards set out in the state permit authorizing the pipeline’s construction.
Vermont Gas had agreed, as a condition of its 2013 Addison County gas pipeline construction permit, to bury the pipeline on top of sandbags, or on other support structures, or on at least six inches of approved backfill material. But the Department of Public Service said Wednesday that it had identified about 4,300 feet of pipeline sitting on unsupported earth.
On at least four occasions between 2015 and 2016, Vermont Gas buried pipeline without the supports required in the permit, the Department of Public Service charged in its “Notice of Probable Violation” letter to the commission.
Improperly buried pipe could corrode as a result of the different types of soil above and below the pipeline, DPS officials said.
Vermont Gas is also charged in the letter with failing to act to reduce soil erosion around the pipeline by shunting groundwater away from the structure.
The Department of Public Service is, as a result, “concerned that this installation may have an increased susceptibility to soil erosion around the pipe, which may affect the integrity of the pipe.”
The department also claimed that Vermont Gas patched “anomalies” in the pipe’s protective coating with “certain manufactured lots of Canusa sleeves (‘wraps’) that exhibited adhesion failure.”
DPS engineers also identified another two locations where the pipe’s protective coating may have been damaged while it was installed.
“While the Department is not at this time considering the above two items (patch adhesion failure and HDD damage) to be code violations, the Department is concerned that these two issues could, over time, present a corrosion risk to the pipeline,” the letter states.
Because of the threat of corrosion, the letter recommends increasing the inspection schedule from every seven years to every five years, and for Vermont Gas to identify and repair damage from corrosion on the same schedule.
The $25,000 fine the department has asked the Public Utility Commission to assess against Vermont Gas is intended as a deterrent, the letter said, but it is also intended to reflect any profit the company made as a result of the violations, as well as the company’s past record of violations.
Vermont Gas was fined $25,000 in 2017 for killing a patch of rare flowers, and in 2016 the company was fined $100,000 for violating another set of written standards. The company paid an additional $100,000 for more than doubling the price of the pipeline from what Vermont Gas representatives told the state it would cost when the company sought its original permit.
Although the violations listed in the DPS letter could accelerate corrosion, they were not as serious as the violations that resulted in the $100,000 fine in 2016, Jim Porter, the director of DPS’s public advocacy division, said. “If this were a safety problem it would have been addressed a long time ago,” Porter said.
Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent said the company itself had reported most of the problems outlined in the DPS letter. She noted that none of the violations pose a threat to safety. Porter concurred that the pipeline meets federal safety standards.
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