Inergy plans to release emergency details - later
WATKINS GLEN—Inergy corporation, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company planning to build a 40 million dollar massive salt-cavern propane storage and transfer facility just north of Watkins Glen says it will prepare a specific plan to deal with emergencies at its site overlooking Seneca Lake.
But that plan—to deal with the possibility of an accident, fire or a rare, but possible catastrophic event—will not be drawn until Inergy receives project approval to fill several of its many salt caverns with approximately 2 million barrels of liquid propane, the first phase of a site development to eventually store 5 million barrels.
“Finger Lakes will have a written Emergency Response Plan (ERP) to deal with accidental releases of hazardous materials,” the corporation states in documents submitted to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The ERP will look at various emergency scenarios. Specifically, it will look at problems “that occur when LPG product is accidentally released either through human error, transportation accident, fire, or explosion.”
While Inergy says the probability of any explosions, fires or transportation accidents are extremely low, area citizens at public forums have expressed concerns about potential catastrophic impacts, and how Inergy and the community might have to deal with them.
The chances of a fire, for example, are remote, Thomas Shelley, a retired safety expert from Cornell University says. “But they have happened and when they do, they are really dramatic.”
In Westly, Texas, a salt-cavern storage leak of propane resulted in an explosion so powerful it was felt 70 miles away—in Houston—and registered 4.0 on the earthquake-measuring Richter Scale.
In that 1992 incident a salt cavern was overfilled. Gas escaped through an injection well normally used to extract brine. The blast was estimated to be equivalent to a three-kiloton bomb.
In a 2004 incident in Moss Bluff, Texas, a salt-cavern facility storing natural gas leaked through a pipe used to extract brine, resulting in an explosion and fire. Within 24 hours, while the natural gas fire raged, a second explosion occurred. The fires were left to burn for six and half days. About 6 billion cubic feet of gas burned in the incident.
The potential for transportation accidents are also a concern for local residents because the proposal calls for expanding the use of railroad LPG tanker cars. Six new rail spurs are planned for the site to handle 24 tank cars every 12 hours. Five 30,000-gallon above-ground propane storage tanks will also be built nearby.
The trains bringing these 24 LPG tank cars to the site will traverse a 75-year-old railroad trestle crossing through Watkins Glen State Park frequented by thousands of local and out-of-area tourists each year. The trains will also pass close to overnight campgrounds.
While a train derailment can be considered to be very unlikely, the results can be dramatic, too.
In Oneida, N.Y., a CSX-owned train carrying LPG derailed in 2007, sending up a huge fireball while six propane tankers burned. Police evacuated the area and closed a 23-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway while the fires burned.
CSX, the largest railroad operator in the Northeast U.S., eventually paid $350,000 in fines for federal safety violations—including several relating to the Oneida derailment and explosions.
Norfolk Southern Railroad currently runs three freight trains per day across the Watkins Glen gorge and through the state park. The company is expected to add the proposed 24 propane tank cars to existing trains, if the project is approved.
An Inergy emergency plan will also likely address how to deal with a rare, but possible catastrophic failure of a proposed 14-acre brine pond built on the side of the hill on the site. In the draft environmental statements submitted by Ingery, there are detailed plans for dealing with leaks from the pond, but not a major impoundment failure.
Schuyler County’s emergency services coordinator Bill Kennedy says that if large-scale emergencies occur at the Inergy site, it will be Inergy’s responsibility to deal with them.
“The experts are the ones that are going to have to deal with this,” he said. “The company has to have an emergency preparedness plan and a contingency plan. They will have to step up.”
Kennedy said his office has the emergency plans Inergy drafted for its Steuben County facility.
“But we probably won’t see a plan for here until they go operational,” he said.
Inergy officials declined to comment for this article, but offered the following statement:
“Inergy’s Midstream team is confident its staff has answered all of the questions that arose in their public discussions, as well within its EIS and in the publicly available filings with regulatory agencies.”