Dominion, LEPC and first responders meet

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Dominion Energy representatives and others involved in the planning and construction of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline met with first responders and members of the Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee last Wednesday to discuss safety and contingency plans for the pipeline construction process.

The pipeline, which is mapped to come through Pocahontas County, will be constructed in spreads, or sections, beginning in 2018 and continuing into 2019.

“Each spread is really self-sufficient,” Carla Picard, Dominion Energy external affairs manager, said. “They have their own dedicated crews and site superintendent. They have site specific safety and security plans. The work will happen from start to finish within that spread using that one team, basically.”

The project begins in West Virginia, travels into Virginia and ends in North Carolina.

“We have a compressor station at the top that is going to help move the gas through the pipeline,” Picard said. “There are a total of three compressor stations along the path – one in Lewis County [West Virginia], one in the center of Virginia in Buckingham County and then one right at the North Carolina state line in Northampton County. Those compressor stations help move the gas along the pipeline six hundred miles.”

The pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia will be 42-inches in diameter it will “neck down” to 32-inches in diameter in North Carolina.

In working with the pipeline – from manufacturing the pipe, to placing the pipe and monitoring the gas flow – Dominion is held to the highest standards by every agency. Each step in manufacturing the pipeline is scrutinized by the Pipeline Safety Administration.

“I’m very confident in our ability to pass all their inspections,” Ben Waldron, Dominion Energy Transmission engineer of pipeline integrity said.

“I personally visited the pipe mill in Pennsylvania and these guys are really good at what they do. They’ve got a lot of experts and the pipe is inspected through the entire process from the time that the pipe is bent into shape from a steel plate. It’s all done in a very technically good way. All the welds done at the mill are tested one hundred percent through non-disruptive testing methods. They perform x-ray or radiographic testing on welds and the long seams are tested by way of ultrasonic testing. This is state-of-the-art technology that they are using to do this.”

After the pipeline is constructed and operational, Dominion uses what is called a Smart Pig which is placed inside the pipe and monitors the stability of the pipe and the gas.

“Dominion is going to be installing receivers all through the pipeline so that on a regular interval – every seven years, as required – we’re going to be putting one of those through there,” Waldon said. “It’s got some neat technology that uses very strong magnets that are aligned and it looks for metal loss or deformities or anomalies. It can tell you a predicted expected life for that pipe so you can monitor the health of the pipe as you maintain operation of the facility.”

Safety Lead for ACP Construction Billy Mercer, who has worked on pipelines for decades, including the Alaskan and Keystone pipe-line, said that a 42-inch pipeline has been installed in terrain similar to that of Pocahontas County and he is confident in the integrity of the line.

As part of the safety committee, Mercer said the plan for the pipeline is thorough and said the spread method will operate under site specific safety plans.

“You hear us talking about spreads,” he said. “It’s a manageable construction block that a group is going to build. When they build a spread, geographically, they can be anywhere from fifteen miles to one hundred, twenty-five miles, sometimes more. A spread could have as many as seven-to-eight hundred people working on it. A pipeline has seven or eight spreads in a year. That’s a lot.

“Each spread is going to have its own site specific safety plan because safety hazards for spread one may not be safety hazards on spread five,” he continued. “This is the plan that governs their work. It’s going to list all the emergency aid, fire departments, EMS, law enforcement, hospitals, what the capabilities are, how do we summon help – that’s a challenge.”

After the pipeline is constructed, the monitoring continues with employees doing periodic – on the ground and in the air – checks.

“We have all sorts of rules and regulations that we’re required to follow, but the truth of the matter is, as an operator, we’re not interested in having any issues,” Phyllis Hinterer, Dominion Energy Transmission director for area operations said. “We just don’t want, don’t need them, and we do this right. There should be no reason that you would have them.

“We walk with boots on the ground once a year, at least, and we do activities,” she continued. “We fly all of our facilities on a monthly basis in a fixed wing aircraft and then quarterly, we put gas detection equipment in the plane so if there is any small leak for any reason, we should pick that up. We have emergency plans for our employees and for our facilities.”

Wednesday night’s LEPC meeting was just the beginning of conversations and coordination between Dominion and first responders and emergency personnel in this county as the project moves forward.

The proposed pipeline timeline is as follows: FERC Final EIS [Environmental Impact Study] finished by July 2017; FERC Certification, fall 2017; pre-construction public open house events, late fall 2017; construction, 2017-2019; and in service by late 2019.

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