Discharge water from Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline testing worries environmentalists
SANDISFIELD — As soon as the new pipeline is entirely in the ground, over 500,000 gallons of water from Lower Spectacle Pond will course through it to make sure the pipes don't leak.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. says it will do this hydrostatic pressure testing, required by the federal Department of Transportation, in a way that will minimize the impact to the surrounding environment and wildlife.
And the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Fisheries & Wildlife have signed off on the Kinder Morgan subsidiary's plan here, which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year.
But environmental groups say the discharge from this testing, likely to begin next month, might result in erosion.
They are also worried that chemicals from an anti-corrosive coating inside the 36-inch pipes will leach into the testing water before its release back into the environment.
And they say they don't know what the chemicals might be because no one will tell them.
"At the site visit, we requested information on what is used to coat the insides of these pipes," wrote Jane Winn, executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, in a 2014 letter to the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
"As far as I know, we have not had an answer," she added. "We would like a full list of the chemicals that water will be exposed to."
That list was never furnished. This is one complaint of many by environmental groups and residents over this stretch of the pipeline company's 13-mile Connecticut Expansion Project, now nearing completion.
Nearly four miles of the Massachusetts spur of the natural gas loop will run through Sandisfield in an existing pipeline corridor with two other pipelines — one built in 1951, the other in 1981. Two of those miles are in Otis State Forest, on land protected by Article 97 of the state Constitution.
That the company won an easement of what became protected land about 10 years ago has drawn ire from activists, residents and state and U.S. lawmakers. Nearly 60 pipeline opponents have been arrested in protests since the work began in May.
Hydrostatic pressure testing is a standard requirement for new pipelines to prevent what could be a dangerous failure. In this case, 2014 company documents says it will take about 1 million gallons — or three acre-feet — from the pond, which has a surface area of 70 acres.
A recent application to the EPA for a discharge permit, however, says the company will discharge 547,797 gallons.
Over a period of 8 hours the, company will push 2,000 gallons per minute through the pipes, reducing the depth of the pond by 0.04 feet, according to company environmental documents.
"[It is] not anticipated to have an impact on wildlife or human users," the company says, adding that if additional rare species are found, Tennessee Gas will adjust its plans.
The company says it will use a screen to keep fish or other wildlife out of the hose and pump, and will take care to avoid sucking out insect larvae.
Because federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations don't allow pipeline discharge into a water body, the water will be discharged at an "upland area" with a lot of vegetation, and regulate the speed.
No chemical additives will be used, the company says.
But Winn is worried about the epoxy or other materials typically used to protect pipe interiors from corrosion from high pressure gas or oil.
Epoxy typically contains Bisphenol A, which the EPA says is a "reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies" and can harm aquatic organisms.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said the discharge water isn't a concern.
"Because the testing involves fresh water, it does not harm the environment when discharged," he said.
In that 2014 letter, Winn had also asked if the water would be tested for chemicals as it came out of the pipes. She said she never got an answer, and she now says MassDEP isn't requiring testing.
"Why won't they test it?" she asked in a telephone interview Thursday.
The company's state-issued water quality permit doesn't say anything about testing discharge water. But it does say the test water can't be released back into a pond or brook.
The company, then, has to abide by approved strategies for managing discharge water, "to ensure that those activities do not result in a discharge to Waters of the United States within the Commonwealth."
Cathy Kristofferson, of Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, said this restriction is the reason why the company is going to let the water out in the "vegetated" upland area from which the water will eventually flow down into Spectacle Pond Brook. She said she's worried about water warmed from sitting in the pipes for eight hours flushed into the cold water fisheries, and erosion in that area.
"I'm concerned — there's not a lot of vegetation and it's a steep slope," she added.
And Kristofferson says she is concerned about chemicals that might also be discharged.
Peter Czapienski, of MassDEP's Western Regional Office, referred The Eagle to the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System under which Tennessee Gas is bound.
Czapienski declined to answer questions about whether the agency would require testing of discharge water, and whether it knows anything about the pipe coating.
Wheatley confirmed that the pipes are made by Russian steelmaker EVRAZ and lined with anti-corrosive paint made by Valspar.
An EVRAZ spokesman based in Chicago said the pipe used in Sandisfield comes from one of the company's plants in Western Canada. He said while EVRAZ sometimes coats pipes, Kinder Morgan had the Sandisfield pipes coated by a different company.
He also said coatings were probably regulated.
"Any coater in the U.S. would likely be subject to stringent [environmental] rules, just as we are in Canada," the spokesman said.
"Valspar 2000," which is stamped on the Sandisfield pipes, is an exterior anti-corrosive epoxy material, according to the company website. Valspar also makes a line of "CorroPipe" products for interior lining that uses a "100 percent solids polyurethane."
Calls to Valspar were not returned. But a research technician at a paint and coating analysis firm said while it is "possible" such a coating product could leach into water, the only way to know is to test a sample of the product.
"You'd have to do an extraction study," said Derek Beauchamp, senior technical director at Avomeen Analytical Services in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Several scientists contacted by The Eagle said they couldn't speak to specifics about the degree to which chemicals would leach into the pipes in this case.
But John Tobiason, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of civil and environmental engineering and a drinking water specialist, said he was fairly sure about one thing.
"It's never zero," he said.
Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871
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