February 20, 2017
Contact: Rachel Smolker
802 482 2848

Vermont Gas encounters problems while drilling under Geprags Park as Supreme Court appeal and federal safety investigation remain pending.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Contact: Rachel Smolker

Landline: (802) 482 2848

Mobile: (802) 735-7794

Email: rsmolker@riseup.net

February 20, 2017  

Inspection reports revealed last week that there was an” inadvertent return” (a spill) of drilling slurry just north of the Geprags Park boundary, near the point of drill entry as Vermont Gas is installing their gas pipeline under the park.  The following day it was reported that there had also been a sudden drop in pressure, indicating another possible spill, but no slurry was observed at the surface (perhaps because it is concealed below snow and ice, or the slurry may have migrated into some other below ground fissure without reaching the surface. This second event remains unexplained)   

In 2014, during a (videotaped) presentation to the Hinesburg Selectboard, Vermont Gas stated that the use of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) to install their gas pipeline through a public park was undesirable because it is “risky and doesn't always work.” Then in 2016, in the face of public opposition, VGS apparently completely changed their mind about HDD, offering to use HDD as a way to “avoid impact” on the park, and referring to HDD in 2016 as “the gold standard” for pipeline installation. VGS had meanwhile experienced numerous problems with HDD installations along the pipeline route in the intervening years, even before reaching Geprags Park.[1]

 HDD involves drilling a borehole below the area, widening it, and then pulling the pipe back through.  Drilling requires the use of a slurry mixture under pressure that contains bentonite and sometimes additional chemicals to lubricate the drills. It is not uncommon for the drilling slurry to squeeze up through fissures in the ground along the route and spill out over the surface landscape.  This is referred to as an “inadvertent return” of drilling slurry and generally is lethal to plants and animals it comes into contact with. Other problems also can occur including damage to welds and coatings crucial to avoiding leaks and corrosion, which are a leading cause of failures and explosions.  

 

Vermont Gas was given a green light to install their pipeline under Geprags Park even as there is a pending Supreme Court appeal challenging the legality of an easement through the park.  Meanwhile, a broad coalition of Vermont groups filed a request with the federal Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) to step in and investigate the apparent failure of VGS compliance with even minimum federal safe construction standards. That investigation is underway.

 

 Rachel Smolker stated: VGS could never guarantee “no harm” to the park.  They started drilling under Geprags with very little idea what they would encounter or if HDD would even be feasible. There could very well be further spills, or other problems, before they are done here. And if they have serious problems with the pipeline in the future how will they access the pipe?  VGS says whatever is convenient at the time in their eagerness to finish the pipeline – preferring to deal with consequences of errors, rather than avoiding them in the first place.  And the state Department of Public Service facilitates that attitude by ensuring any consequences are minimal and can be absorbed as part of the “cost of doing business”.  It’s a repeating pattern that in the end leaves Vermonters burdened with a dangerous liability, a degraded environment and a lack of faith in our public service agencies. 

 

Theora Ward stated: “Geprags Park was granted to the town of Hinesburg by the Geprags sisters with a covenant in the deed that it be used for recreation and educational purposes only.  Now VGS is putting a pipeline through it. The PSB overstepped their bounds in granting an easement through the park. It is totally outrageous that construction is now being allowed even as the legality of the easement is under appeal in the courts and even as VGS is under federal scrutiny for unsafe construction.  This is our park, not a sacrifice zone for Vermont Gas and Gaz Metro profitmaking.”

 

 

 CONTACTS:

 

 

Rachel Smolker

Landline: (802) 482 2848

Mobile: (802) 735-7794

Email: rsmolker@riseup.net

 

Theora Ward

Landline: (802) 482 5455

Email: theora@gmavt.net

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Problems with HDD, including inadvertent returns and coatings are evident from, among other, inspection reports from Monkton Swamp, and in Colchester. 

 


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