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Monday, April 20, 2015 @ 04:04 PM gHale

Cleanup is still underway after a producing oil well breached Thursday morning, spilling an estimated 100 barrels of oil into Oakey Woods Creek in Covington County, MS.

As of Friday, emergency officials cleaned over 50 barrels of the oil from and around the creek.

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“The rain last night actually helped us, it helped move the product that was in log-jams and helped it flow down to the containment areas,” said Collins Fire Chief, John Pope.

Air and water levels are continuing to undergo monitoring around the area, and at this time, no irregularities have been present in the air. Officials sent multiple water samples to the lab for testing, Pope said.

Pope added multiple residents have expressed concerns about water moving down stream and harming cattle, but so far emergency officials have kept it contained to a small area around the scene.

“A good bit of the product is actually a light crude, and it vaporizes off, so 100 barrels actually won’t have to be collected, because there will not be that much left,” said Pope.

Pope credited the work of the City of Collins Fire Department, hazmat crews, pipeline groups as well as state agencies that had oil booms in place very early in the spill, stopping it from spreading further downstream.

Pope said the heavy cleanup operations should be complete by Monday or Wednesday at the latest. Crews, however, will remain for several weeks and continue to monitor the area as well as water and air levels for the community.

Covington County Emergency Management Director Greg Sanford said the leak ended up identified by a worker and resident who smelled the petroleum oil. It is unknown how long the oil spilled from the well, but Sanford estimated it was at least two hours.

“The source (was) shut off, and the threat, I think is going to be minimal from here on out,” Sanford said, who added residents, nor water or wildlife, should not be affected.

The well, operated by Mississippi Resources Limited, sits on the north side of Highway 84, just east of Collins near Hwy. 37. Sanford said the spill flowed approximately two miles down the creek, reaching Leaf River Church Road.

Sanford said the crew saw a broken line coming out of the well, which was the source of the leak.

“I believe it has safeguards on it that prevented it from being a huge disaster,” said Sanford.

Monday, April 20, 2015 @ 04:04 PM gHale

A combination of poor management, lapses in safety and a lack of proper procedures resulted in a radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository in New Mexico.

And the catch is, it didn’t have to be that way, said a team of investigators.

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That was the conclusion in a final report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board. Officials reviewed the findings Thursday night during a community meeting in Carlsbad, NM.

The investigators spent more than a year looking into the cause of the radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.

Like a separate team of technical experts, they too found that a chemical reaction inside a drum of waste packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory forced the lid open, allowing radiation to escape. The contents included nitrate salt residues and organic cat litter used to soak up moisture in the waste.

Aside from lab managers, the report places blame on Energy Department headquarters, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that manages the repository. It highlights numerous failures — from Los Alamos lab not having an adequate system for identifying and controlling hazards to federal nuclear officials not ensuring the existence of a “strong safety culture” at the lab.

Investigators found a failure by managers to resolve employee concerns where the final result could have treated problems before the waste shipped from Los Alamos to the repository.

Accident Investigation Board Chair Ted Wyka said during the town hall some workers reported seeing foaming and yellowish smoke while repackaging waste. After short discussions with their supervisors, they went back to work on the assembly line.

That information did not make it up to lab managers, he said.

“It wasn’t an issue of malice,” Wyka said. “It was more of an issue of just not understanding … the issue, the reactions that they were working with, the hazards involved and the controls.”

Lab Director Charlie McMillian acknowledged in a staff memo there were “serious deficiencies” in the lab’s processes and procedures.

“We now know from the investigations that if (Los Alamos National Laboratory) had followed certain basic steps, this event would not have happened. Also, if we had complied with our hazardous waste permit, we would have avoided the serious legal and credibility issues we now face,” McMillian said.

The Energy Department and its contractors are facing $54 million in fines from the state of New Mexico for the failures that led to the mishap. Negotiations are ongoing, and the state has suggested more financial penalties are possible.

With the repository closed indefinitely, efforts to clean up decades of Cold War-era waste at federal facilities around the country are in a holding pattern. Federal officials say resuming full operations at the repository could take years and cost more than a half-billion dollars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 @ 02:04 PM gHale

Williams Energy is facing a citation for “conditions not allowable in state waters” after the company’s pipeline rupture allowed 132 barrels of Marcellus Shale condensate to spill into Little Grave Creek in Glen Dale, WV, last week.

The 4-inch condensate conduit broke late Thursday, less than three hours before a 12-inch natural gas pipeline — also operated by Williams — failed in the Bane Lane area of Marshall County.

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“Other violations may be issued depending on the evolution and discovery of site conditions,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Kelley J. Gillenwater of the 4-inch pipeline rupture. “The condensate has impacted approximately 6 miles of Little Grave Creek in Marshall County.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies condensates as light liquid hydrocarbons recovered at natural gas well sites that producers market for profit. Industry officials often compare the material to crude oil.

Gillenwater said a visible sheen remains along Little Grave Creek, along with a slight odor. This stream ultimately leads to the Ohio River, but she said the incident did not affect drinking water intakes. Gillenwater said an environmental remediation company hired by Williams placed containment booms in the creek to prevent the material from proliferating.

“Williams has and will continue to take water samples of Little Grave Creek starting at the mouth of the Ohio River, and sampling all public accesses of the stream to the right of way,” Gillenwater said. “An unnamed tributary is also believed to have been impacted and this stream is also being sampled.”

Williams spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said on Friday company officials believe “heavy rains in the area, which may have destabilized soils, were a contributing factor” in the two pipeline failures late Thursday.

Humphreys said both pipelines remain shutdown as company and state inspectors determine the full cause of the ruptures before initiating repairs.

“The company hired independent experts to take water samples of nearby tributaries and Little Grave Creek beginning the night of the incident to determine whether and to what extent these water bodies might have been impacted,” she said.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams transports natural gas and liquids for Chevron, Southwestern Energy, Gastar Exploration, Trans Energy, and several other producers in northern West Virginia.

The firm operates a massive pipeline and processing infrastructure network in Marshall County. It runs the Oak Grove processing plant, the Fort Beeler processing plant and the Moundsville fractionator, all of which end up connected by pipelines.

Humphreys said the 12-inch line that broke near Bane Lane Thursday collects natural gas from producing wells throughout the area for shipment to the nearby Fort Beeler plant. She said officials knew they had a problem because of a noticeable pressure drop.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 @ 03:04 PM gHale

A 27-year-old Lancaster County, PA, man died after an explosion Friday night at a manufacturing plant in Caernarvon Township, officials said.

Jacob J. Lopez of Ephrata Township died at 12:22 a.m. Saturday morning after the blast at Timet, a titanium plant.

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According to Caernarvon Township police:

“An explosion was reported at 10:59 p.m. in the plant’s melt shop.

“When police arrived at 11:05 p.m., the explosion was over, and there was no fire.

“Two were transported to Reading Hospital and a third person drove to the hospital.”

A state police fire marshal’s office and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Harrisburg is investigating the cause of the explosion.

This was the second major emergency in less than two years at Timet, which was the scene of a three-alarm fire in June 2013.

About 200 firefighters from two dozen companies in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties responded to that blaze, which state police ruled accidental. Investigators said it caused about $3.5 million in damage.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 @ 11:03 AM gHale

This time it was not oil, but a chemical spill as 12 cars from a BNSF train derailed near Valley Mills, TX, Saturday.

The next day, crews started to clean up the industrial solvent that leaked from one of the tankers, said Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson.

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No injuries or fires resulted from the derailment Saturday evening, Wilson said.

Residents of about four homes ended up evacuated as a precaution, but returned home at 9 p.m. Saturday.

A hazardous materials team was working on the cleanup Sunday, Wilson said. The derailed cars are off the track and crews were repairing the damaged track and a bridge.

The cleanup will wrap up when conditions are drier, officials said.

First responders first thought methanol was leaking from one car after the derailment, but later determined the chemical was dimethylformamide, which can cause nausea and vomiting if inhaled.

About 7,000 gallons of the flammable liquid spilled, but it has been contained and poses no threat, BNSF Railway spokesman Joe Faust said Sunday.

The cleanup should be finished by late Sunday night, he said.

The cause of the derailment has not been determined. Heavy rain Saturday night made it difficult for crews to reach the scene, Wilson said.

The 12 cars left the tracks and overturned at around 5 p.m. Saturday. Five of the cars were carrying what authorities said was methanol, a type of alcohol that can be dangerous if ingested. Seven other cars were carrying oil-well pipes that spilled all over the tracks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 03:03 PM gHale

One person died and two suffered injuries Sunday night after a mine roof collapsed in Marshall County, WV, officials said.

Emergency crews got the call around 8:50 p.m. to the scene of a roof collapse at the Cameron Portal of a Murray Energy coal mine, said Tom Hart, emergency management director for Marshall County. Crews arrived to find three injured workers other mine workers pulled to safety.

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One of the victims eventually died, Hart said. Rescue personnel flew another to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV. The third went via ambulance to Wheeling Hospital. Officials have not yet released the names of the victims.

Other than the three victims of the incident, all other miners ended up accounted for. Murray Energy along with state and federal officials will start an investigation into the incident, Hart said.

Murray Energy and its subsidiary companies operate more than a dozen active coal mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah and Illinois.

Murray Energy released a brief statement saying “an accident” had occurred at the company’s Marshall County mine. The statement said details about the incident weren’t immediately clear.

Two miners died in May at a mine near Wharton, WV, while engaged in “retreat mining,” a process called one of the most dangerous forms of coal mining.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 @ 05:02 PM gHale

A problem with a steam valve forced the shutdown of one of the two reactors at Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown, PA at 10 p.m. Monday night, officials said.

Called a “hot shutdown,” the reactor for Unit 1 “automatically shut down at about 9:40 p.m.,” according to statement released by Exelon Nuclear Tuesday.

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Unit 2 remained unaffected and continued to operate generating electricity.

The grid is stable and Exelon reported the shutdown will not affect electrical service, said officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The Unit 1 shutdown occurred because of the unexpected closure of one of the “main steam isolation valves” in the line sending steam to the unit’s electrical generator.

The valve closed due to a leak in the nitrogen supply line, the gas used in the hydraulic system to operate the valve, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

“During an accident, the (main steam isolation valves) would be closed to prevent the release of radioactivity from the containment building, which houses the reactor,” Sheehan said.

As a result of the valve’s closure, pressure in the reactor began to rise “exceeding the reactor protection system setpoint of pressure,” according to the NRC’s initial incident report on the matter.

This caused the “hot shutdown,” during which “control rods” insert amid the fuel rods to slow or stop the nuclear reaction that generates the heat used to create the steam that spins the turbines and creates electricity.

“A ‘hot shutdown’ means the reactor and the reactor coolant system remain heated and pressurized, thus allowing for a fairly quick restart once the problem is resolved,” Sheehan said.

“It essentially means the reactor is idling until being placed back into service,” Sheehan added. “But no fissioning is taking place and therefore there is no greater risk of a radiation release than if the plant was in ‘cold shutdown,’ which means the reactor and reactor coolant system have been cooled down and depressurized. A “cold shutdown” occurs when a plant will be down for at least several days.

“The shutdown was normal and the plant is stable in hot shutdown with normal pressure control via the main steam bypass valves to the main condenser and normal level control using the feedwater system,” according to the NRC preliminary report.

“Plant equipment responded as designed during the shutdown. Station operators responded appropriately,” according to Exelon.

The NRC received word of the “scram” quickly Monday night and the plant’s two resident NRC inspectors will oversee the repairs, Sheehan said.

To repair the problem, Exelon crews will have to “go into the plant’s drywell, the enclosed area surrounding the reactor, to search for the source of the leakage and then make any needed repairs,” Sheehan said.

“The forced outage will be counted in the plant’s Performance Indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 Hours of Operation,” Sheehan said.

Thursday, February 19, 2015 @ 12:02 PM gHale

Carbon monoxide was in the air and over 100 firefighters from the Fitchburg, WI, area responded to the hazardous material call at a plastics company’s production building, officials said.

After an employee showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning at the EcoStar facility in Fitchburg, firefighters got the call, said Fitchburg fire Deputy Chief Rich Roth.

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Firefighters confirmed high Carbon monoxide (CO) levels inside the building and the department followed protocol and contacted the Madison Hazardous Incident Team, or HIT, Roth said. The National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team in Madison also responded with its chemical biological monitoring team.

The teams determined there was a chemical reaction happening in a pellet storage bin in the EcoStar building’s production area, Roth said. EcoStar recycles used plastics into plastic sheets sold commercially, according to the company website.

To reduce the CO in the building to a safe level, firefighters, HIT and guard members had to remove about 7,000 pounds of plastic pellets from a large storage bin by hand, Roth said. To tackle the task, hazmat response rotated in shifts for about 17 hours through Friday night and Saturday morning.

Roth estimated about 120 fire and EMS personnel took part in the large-scale, labor-intensive operation overnight.

“We never had to strip fire and EMS protection from another area,” Roth said. “We’d leap frog communities so that we didn’t get everybody right closest to the scene and not leave people unprotected.”

The building was cleared of the hazardous material and turned over to EcoStar managers at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Roth said.

EcoStar and its parent company, Placon, officials were not immediately available.

Monday, February 16, 2015 @ 04:02 PM gHale

Oil and gas drilling in highly populated residential areas will require more protections for neighbors under new instructions unveiled last week by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Supervisor of Wells.

Residents of metro Detroit townships — like Shelby and Scio — who already have endured round-the-clock noise, bright lights and other nuisances from oil well construction near their homes last summer said the regulatory changes don’t do enough to protect communities.

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DEQ’s new instructions for oil and gas developers include requirements to provide notice to local governments before projects commence, groundwater monitoring, containing drill cuttings and fluids in tanks, noise reduction and ceasing drilling-related truck traffic during overnight hours.

However, the new regulation only applies in a county with a population of 750,000 people or more. Only three counties in Michigan meet that population figure: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The regulation also only applies when the zoning in the drilling location is for residential activity and 40 or more structures for public or private occupancy exist within 1,320 feet of the well location.

The changes come from a task force convened after public outcry caused by an oil well built in a zoned residential area of Macomb County’s Shelby Township last August — only about 500 feet from a neighborhood. Noisy drilling occurred on a 24-7 basis for about three weeks, along with bright lights at night and truck and heavy equipment traffic.

The new rules “require a lot of protections in terms of noise, lighting, berming and screening,” said DEQ Supervisor of Wells Hal Fitch.

“It provides transparency, notice to residents. It requires a thorough analysis of alternate drilling locations — a company’s got to tell us why there’s not a better location to drill from that’s farther from residential development.”

The instruction comes after several meetings of a task force consisting of representatives from state government, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, and members of the public, Fitch said. He said he recognizes the new instruction to oil and gas developers will not satisfy everyone.

“There are some who would just like to prohibit oil and gas development,” he said. “The problem with that is, the mineral owners and the companies leasing the minerals have constitutional rights that you have to honor. You can’t just deny people their property rights, unless you pay them for it.”

The new rules take effect for all oil and gas development that starts in the state after Feb. 24.

“One of the advantages of an instruction, as opposed to more formal rule-making, is that we can turn it around in a short period of time,” Fitch said. “We’re going to look at how this works, examine it and make adjustments as the need arises.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 @ 10:02 AM gHale

Eight people ended up treated for chemical inhalation and skin irritation following a fire at the Warsaw Chemical Company on Friday, official said.

A fire at the plant followed by an explosion caused tanks to rupture, leaking chemicals into storm drains and Winona Lake, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

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Eight people ended up treated at Kosciusko Community Hospital for chemical inhalation and skin irritation. One plant employee suffered burns on his hands, officials said.

Crews with Environmental Remediation Services of Fort Wayne were on scene late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Feb. 7, treating the area after thousands of gallons of chemicals — mostly menthol — mixed into the water and snow in the surrounding area, conservation officer Jerry Hoerdt said.

“We are trying to re-oxygenate the water,” he said Saturday morning. “Thankfully, we have not seen any fish or wildlife in the area that have been affected, but we are monitoring that.”

The cause of the fire is still unknown and will be until emergency workers can clean up the chemicals from the area, Lt. Kip Shuter of the Warsaw Police Department said.

An investigation is underway.