Federal and state investigations are underway after a whistleblower told authorities about alleged defective corrosion protection on Shell’s Falcon pipeline, which is being built to provide ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shales to the company’s Beaver County cracker plant.
The 98-mile pipeline will carry ethane from a processing plant in Washington County to the petrochemical plant that is under construction, while another leg will travel from eastern Ohio and the northern panhandle of West Virginia to the cracker.
FracTracker Alliance obtained documents showing that the state Department of Environmental Protection, the attorney general’s office, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have all been involved in investigations into the Falcon Pipeline's construction.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell sent a letter in February 2020 to the then-administrator of PHMSA, which has oversight of interstate pipeline construction, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and several others, in which he explained that DEP had provided information it received from a former Shell employee about the defective corrosion coating to that agency, along with corroborating information. “The coatings at issue help to protect the pipeline from corroding underground. Corroded pipe pose a possible threat of product release, landslide or even explosion,” the letter states.
Following a “brief inquiry in 2019, PMSHA determined there are no deficiencies with the coatings,” the letter states. DEP believed the investigation was incomplete and referred the matter to other authorities.
“Our staff was alarmed by the whistleblower’s allegations and concerned for the safety of people living along the pathway of the Falcon pipeline. These are very serious allegations, they deserve thorough investigation and appropriate resolution.” McDonnell urged PHMSA to undertake a comprehensive investigation.
The letter also noted that there are also allegations from other witnesses of falsification of records and retaliatory action by Shell.
A Shell spokesman told the Beaver County Times that government and regulatory agencies have provided oversight throughout the construction process. The statement also indicated that construction and inspection procedures have met or exceeded safety requirements, and that Shell is committed to safety.
As a result of FracTracker’s information, 29 regional groups are calling on state and federal agencies take all necessary enforcement actions and halt all work and operation of the Falcon Pipeline unless it can be proven that the pipeline is safe.