NESE Fact Sheet 5
Williams’s Safety Record
Williams is an energy company based in Tulsa, OK, that owns and operates natural gas pipelines and processing plants. In 1995 it bought Transco Energy Corporation, which operated a pipeline that brings natural gas from wells in the Gulf of Mexico and distributes it in East Coast states as far north as the New York City region. In 2009 Williams began to focus on fracked natural gas sources in the Marcellus Shale (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio) and began to build pipelines that would bring fracked gas from there into the Transco system. The project we oppose, the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline (NESE), is part of this expanded Transco network.
Williams has a poor record of safety in the management of its pipelines, compressor stations, and processing plants. In the last ten years, Williams Transco pipelines and compressor stations have exploded and/or caught fire ten times, and five other explosions and/or fires have occurred in other Williams natural gas facilities. These incidents have killed six people and injured 103 others. These incidents have also released methane into the atmosphere, leveled buildings, and contaminated groundwater. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the EPA, and OSHA have repeatedly levied civil penalties against Williams for neglecting procedures that accord with federal safety standards. For specific incidents with sources, see the attached list.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency charged with regulating interstate pipeline construction, denies that Williams’ safety record is significant. FERC acknowledged that it has received information about Williams’ safety record from those concerned about the proposed NESE. However, in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the NESE issued in March 2018, FERC entirely discounts these safety concerns. Since FERC requires that anyone wishing to build a project under FERC’s purview must certify that they will follow all Department of Transportation safety standards, FERC “accepts this certification and does not impose additional safety standards.” Williams’s history of ignoring safety procedures is, in FERC’s view, irrelevant.
Natural gas is primarily methane, a highly flammable and explosive gas, and hence dangerous to life and property. Moreover, explosions and fires, whether originating in a pipeline or in the compressor stations located along the route of a pipeline, release methane into the atmosphere. In the 20 years after its release, methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Even in the absence of an accident, compressor stations are dangerous to health. Methane can be emitted by the routine operation of compressor stations. Moreover, studies have shown heightened levels of ozone, volatile organic compounds, benzene, and other toxic chemicals in areas downwind of compressor stations.
In 2014 the Wall Street Journal investigated pipeline spills and accidents in the US and found that too often pipeline companies learned of problems from outsiders. It counted 1,400 incidents between 2010 and 2013. Four out of five of these events were discovered by local people, not by the owners and operators of these pipelines. Williams is no exception. Ignoring safe procedures, inadequate inspections, and employee errors all have played their part in Williams’ poor safety record.
For Williams/Transco: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_Companies
The six deaths: See 2013 Geismer incident and 2015 Gibson/Bayou Black incident listed below.
The 103 injuries: See 2008 Appomattox incident, 2013 Branchburg incident, 2013 Geismar incident, 2014
Plymouth incident, and the 2015 Gibson/Bayou Black incident, all listed below.
FERC’s statement about the irrelevance of Williams’ safety record: “Northeast Supply Enhancement Project: Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” p. 4-312. http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20180323-3005
Methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
Methane emission during the routine operation of compressor stations: https://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/2017/01/methane-plumes-downwind-natural-gas-compressor-stations/
The release of other chemicals from compressor stations: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/21/137197991/air-quality-concerns-threaten-natural-gas-image
Accident discoveries: Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2014.
List of Safety Incidents with Sources
2008. A Williams Transco natural gas pipeline exploded in Appomattox, Virginia in September. Five people were hospitalized and two nearby homes were destroyed. In 2009 Transco was fined $925,000 for failure to monitor corrosion, the source of the Appomattox pipeline explosion. The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2010. https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Press%20Release%208.10.09.pdf
2011. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration levied a civil penalty of $23,800 for failure to properly inspect and test compressor stations in Texas and Louisiana. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/420111001/420111001_Final%20Order_06242011_text.pdf
2011. The massive explosion of a Williams Transco pipeline in Sweet Water, Alabama was attributed to pipeline corrosion. The blast was heard 30 miles away and ignited a fire that burned eight acres of pine forest. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/220111011H/220111011H_CAO_12062011_text.pdf
2012. An explosion led to a fire at a Williams-owned compressor station in Springville, Pennsylvania. Times Tribune, Scranton, March 30, 2012
2012. Williams/Transco paid a $74,300 fine levied by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for safety and monitoring failures at its Carlstadt, New Jersey, LNG facility. https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Files/Press%20Release%20Files/120123002_Final%20Order_10262012.pdf
2012. The PHMSA levied civil penalties $50,000 for failure to follow adequately monitor and maintain its pipelines on Staten Island. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/120111015/120111015_Final%20Order_03052012_text.pdf
2012. Personnel at a Williams-owned compressor station in Windsor, New York, were venting methane gas during a lightning storm. This resulted in a “big fireball” and the release of the remaining gas into the atmosphere. Natural Gas Watch, July 30, 2012.
2013. Williams natural gas plant leaked benzene into groundwater near Parachute, Colorado. Benzene is a carcinogen; in some places, benzene level was 36,000 times greater than safe drinking level. Denver Post, March 28, 2013. Six months later the leak was still active. Denver Post, July13, 2013
2013. A recently-installed 24-inch Williams natural gas pipe ruptured in Cameron, West Virginia. http://marcellusdrilling.com/2013/03/williams-methane-pipeline-ruptures-in-marshall-county-wv/
2013. A fire broke out in a Williams compressor station in Brooklyn Township, Pennsylvania. While Williams officials denied there was a fire, DEP officials said they found visual evidence that an explosion may have occurred. One ton of methane was released during the event. Times Tribune (Scranton) May 16, 2013
2013. An explosion at a Williams compressor station in Branchburg, New Jersey, injured thirteen people, two seriously. Home News Tribune (East Brunswick, NJ), June 1, 2013. The PHMSA investigations found Williams to have followed inadequate procedures in place for ensuring safety. The PHMSA levied civil penalties of $167,000. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/120141002/120141002_Final%20Order_10082014_text.pdf
2013. An explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins, Inc., plant in Geismar, Louisiana, killed two people and injured 77 others. A US Chemical Safety Board investigation concluded that safety management at the plant was deficient for years prior to the explosion. http://www.csb.gov/williams-olefins-plant-explosion-and-fire-/; http://www.wafb.com/story/22581898/chemical-plant-explosion-leaves-2-dead-77-injured
2014. A fire at Williams compressor station in Windsor, NY. NYS Department of Public Service Incident Investigation Report: http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Common/ViewDoc.aspx?DocRefId=%7BEA77D8AC-37E5-41B8-B57C-4C7CDE8F941F%7D
2014. Pipeline explosion and fire at a Williams LNG facility in Plymouth, WA. Five people were injured. Thinkprogress.com, March 31, 2014.
2014. A natural gas pipeline failed, leading to an explosion and fire at a Williams-owned facility in Moundsville, West Virginia. InterMountain.com, April 24, 2014.
2014. Explosion and fire at a Williams natural gas processing facility and major national pipeline hub in Opal, Wyoming. Entire town evacuated. Casper Star-Tribune, Oct. 16, 2014.
2015. Explosion and fire at a natural gas plant owned by Williams in Gibson, Louisiana. Four workers were killed and two others were seriously injured. Wall Street Journal, 8 October, 2015. https://www.houmatimes.com/news/year-later-at-williams-feds-blast-company-for-deadly-explosion/article_97c8262a-85a0-11e6-9e8d-9bfe4c321c6b.html
2015. The rupture of a Williams pipeline in Lycoming, Pennsylvania released approximately 96,379,000 cubic feet of methane. https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/PipelineFailureReports/150663_Transcontinental_Unityville_PA_June_9_2015.pdf
2015. The PHMSA levied a civil penalty of $56,800 on Williams for failing to adequately inspect transmission pipeline valves in New Jersey and New York City. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/120141009/120141009_Final%20Order_12292015_text.pdf
2015. An accident at Williams’ field services station in Houston, Pennsylvania led to an investigation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Waste Safety Administration; Williams was found to have violated safety procedures and was fined. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/120185008/120185008_NOPV%20PCP_01182018_text.pdf
2016. After an investigation of the 2015 Gibson/Bayou Black explosion, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration found it probable that Williams had violated of federal pipeline safety regulations. PHMSA levied $1.6m in civil penalties as a result of its investigation. https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Files/Pipeline/420161008_NOPV_PCP_PCO_07292016.pdf; https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/pipeline/phmsa-proposes-1-6-m-in-civil-penalties-for-safety-violations-following-fatal-2015-louisiana-compressor-station-explosion
2016. PHMSA notified Williams of safety violations at its Transco pipeline facilities in Alabama and Georgia. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/220161002W/220161002W_Warning%20Letter_09022016.pdf
2016. PHMSA notified Williams that its procedures for replacing natural gas pipeline in Maryland violated pipeline safety standards. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/120161008W/120161008W_Warning%20Letter_11022016.pdf
2016. The Environmental Protection Agency fined Williams for multiple violations at its Fort Beeler Station in West Virginia related to air pollution and safety standards.
2016. A Williams facility in Clarke County, Mississippi, inadvertently released 3.2 million cubic feet of methane. It was cited for poor procedures by the PHMSA. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/220171002/220171002_NOPV%20PCP%20PCO_05122017.pdf
2017. PHMSA notified Williams that it was in probable violation of Pipeline Safety Regulations in its Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina Transco facilities. https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/enforce/documents/220171002/220171002_NOPV%20PCP%20PCO_05122017.pdf
2017. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Williams for a safety violation at their facility in Grover, North Carolina. https://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.inspection_detail?id=1270444.015
2017. The Environmental Protection Agency fined Williams $35,000 for unsafe discharges of pollutants into the air at the Fort Beeler Station in West Virginia. https://echo.epa.gov/enforcement-case-report?id=WV000A05100127-14888
Many thanks to the following; Sane Energy Project (https://saneenergyproject.org/infrastructure-invasion/track-records-of-builders/ ); New York Friends of Clean Air and Water (http://nyfriendsofcleanairandwater.blogspot.com/2014/04/williams-companies-safety-and.html; and the compilers of the Wikipedia entry on pipeline accidents (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pipeline_accidents_in_the_United_States)
Updated : July 2018
Questions? Email infrastructure@350Brooklyn.org