Dec 16 2009

Spectra PCBs 2

Toxic PCBs Are Still With Us;

Spectra Energy Acknowledges PCB Contamination

Toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) still contaminate Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern pipeline system – 30 years after the probable human carcinogen was banned.

This is evident from the company’s filings with the federal government and even from its job postings.

For example, in a required filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Spectra Energy acknowledged that it has toxic PCB (polychlorinated byphenyl) contamination in its pipeline systems:

“…the internal surfaces of some of our pipeline systems are contaminated with PCBs, and liquids and other materials removed from these pipelines must be managed in compliance with such regulations.”

Spectra Energy’s 10-K Form – Lots of Info

These and other acknowledgements of risk are found in the “10-K” annual report that Spectra Energy filed with the SEC on February 27, 2009.  Publicly held corporations like Spectra Energy are required to file a Form 10-K every year.  The 10-K is filled with a wealth of information and once it is filed with the SEC, it becomes public information.


Here, for example, is the excerpt referring to Spectra Energy’s PCB contamination under Environmental Matters (p. 20).  It reads (emphasis added):

  • “The Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires that polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated materials be managed in accordance with a comprehensive regulatory regime.  Because of the historical use of lubricating oils containing PCBs, the internal surfaces of some of our pipeline systems are contaminated with PCBs, and liquids and other materials removed from these pipelines must be managed in compliance with such regulations.”

When Spectra Energy hires environmental specialists, knowledge of PCBs is part of the job description.  For example, a recent Environment Health & Safety (EHS) job opening for “Specialist – EHS Associate” lists among the duties and responsibilities:

“Work on TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] Projects including but not limited to PCB reclassification/declassification of tanks and pipelines and management of PCB material.”  Link:  job-openings-us-spectra-energy

Two of three recent EHS job openings in Houston specifically mention PCBs.

Spectra Energy’s Group Vice President of Internal and External Affairs Toni Beck, previously said:  “We tested the lubricating oil from [Bedford County, PA] Steckman Ridge’s August shut down, and no PCB’s were detected.   If at any point other liquids are collected, we will test them as well.”

Testing the lubricating oil is necessary but not sufficient.

Test Pipeline Liquids for PCBs

Did the company test the liquids in ALL piping drains that pick up the pipeline liquids at the compressor station and the injection/withdrawal pipeline?  If so, what were the results?

When asked about testing the pipeline liquids, Ms. Beck replied (emphasis added):  “The liquid separators are designed to collect pipeline liquids from the gas stream to prevent potential PCBs from moving into the new system. To date, there have been no pipeline liquids collected at Steckman Ridge. If we do, those liquids would be tested for PCB concentrations prior to disposal.”

In other words, the pipeline liquids going into the Steckman Ridge underground gas storage field have neither been collected nor tested.  Why is this important?

There are three ways that such contaminated liquids can appear and escape a pipeline/compressor station system, according to a source knowledgeable about such operations.

The components of natural gas inside a pipeline can form a liquid; OR liquids are brought into the pipeline from a third-party interconnection; OR oils and greases are released from compressor stations, pipeline valves, or other processes.  It is the liquids and oils that pick up the PCBs; and if there is a release of liquid or oil from a contaminated system, it will contaminate the environment.

Release to the environment of toxic PCBs could occur in three ways:

1) Maintenance or Repairs: Contaminated liquids can escape the system when the company “opens” the system for repairs or routine maintenance.  Liquids can also be released during blowdown operations that take place prior to working on the system or other processes.

2) Cleaning “Pigs”: Liquid releases can take place when the company runs so-called “cleaning pigs” through the system because it is necessary to release gas from the system at the last stage of this operation before removing the cleaning pigs from the system.

3) Automation: When the automated system at Steckman Ridge or similar compressor stations or other types of facilities tells the valve to open and release gas through the blowdown stack.

What About the Water Aquifer?

On top of all of that – an important question arises regarding the integrity of an underground natural gas storage field or reservoir.  The question is whether liquids contaminated with PCBs or other toxic chemicals are introduced into the storage reservoir itself.

If the underground gas storage reservoir is near water aquifers, everything depends on the reservoir being perfectly sealed from other reservoirs and aquifers and able to contain the contamination.

Experts know that gas migrates underground.  There are multiple examples in Pennsylvania, to cite just one state, of improperly sealed well casings.  Gas and any contaminants migrate.

The town of Dimock, Pennsylvania, is a frightening example of out-of-control contamination of water supplies.  This is a place with exploding water wells and polluted ground and drinking water.  See our December 2 post on “Marcellus Powerball.”  Link:

Frankly, the history of PCB contamination involving Spectra Energy compressor stations via its Texas Eastern pipeline division is staggering.  For additional background, see the November 18 post, “Spectra PCBs? (part one).  Link:

Today’s Texas Eastern pipeline is nearly 9,000 miles long with 73 compressor stations, according to the company’s 10-K filing with the SEC.

Don’t Eat the Fish

An internet search turns up several examples of citizens and/or regulatory agencies monitoring PCB concentrations that were disposed of in waste pits near compressor stations by Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern pipeline division.

For example, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been testing for PCBs on two rivers in the Pearl River basin for roughly 20 years.

According to a DEQ technical report published in 2004:

“During the time that PCBs were in use at the compressor station [near Kosciusko and operated by Texas Eastern], PCBs were disposed of by placing the waste in pits which migrated to Conehoma Creek and the Yockanookany River.”  (Executive Summary, p. 4 of print document, p. 5 of pdf file)  Link:  pearlrbconehomayockpcbjan04

According to the Mississippi DEQ report, “Fish tissue samples from Conehoma Creek and the Yockanookany River have shown concentrations of PCBs elevated above safe levels for consumption.”  (Executive Summary, p. 4 of print document, p. 5 of pdf file)

A phone call to DEQ’s Office of Pollution Control verified that the fish consumption advisory continues to this day – warning citizens to limit their consumption of fish from areas on two rivers because of the continued presence of PCBs.

EPA ‘Celebrates’ Spectra Energy

Spectra Energy’s PCB contamination is singular in many ways, making public questions and monitoring more than appropriate.  For example, on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, there is “A Look at EPA Accomplishments:  25 Years of Protecting Public Health and the Environment.”

Forty-four accomplishments are celebrated over a 25-year period – from the banning of DDT and phasing out lead in gasoline to the first community right-to-know law.

Within that lengthy list, only two companies are cited by name.  The first is Spectra Energy via its Texas Eastern pipeline division.  The citation for 1990 reads:

“EPA assesses a penalty of $15 million – the largest single civil penalty in the Agency’s history [at that time] – against Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Company, for extensive PCB contamination at 89 sites.  In addition to the fine, the company is required to pay for PCB cleanups estimated to exceed $750 million.”

The only other company cited by name is Exxon, for its Exxon Valdez oil spill.  For reference, here is the link:

The challenge for the gas industry and Spectra Energy is whether past performance is an indicator of current and future behavior.

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