Local emergency responders are very well trained, but face disadvantages in this rural setting, where there is no access to pressurized water for firefighting, let alone dealing with explosion and catastrophic fire. Recent local house fires have tragically shown that water accessibility is inadequate to control even residential blazes. Recently there was a house fire in our community, less than 2 miles from the proposed site. The home burned to the ground and the fire also spread to the surrounding woods and needed to be contained.
Fires and explosions at compressor stations are not uncommon, and have resulted in deaths, melted roads, and tremendous property damage. Mount Vernon had an assessment of the catastrophic fire potential performed by the Chesapeake Conservancy, which shows the devastation that could result from an explosion (see below).
The possibility of this site as being a potential terrorist target has not been reviewed as yet. This proposed site will have large amounts of compressed gas and 13,000 gallons of ammonia in an isolated setting with employees present only 40 hours a week, which is less than a quarter of the time. In addition it is within 20 miles of our nation’s capital and within the renowned viewshed of Mount Vernon.
Jim Long put together an excellent review of the safety issues this proposed pipeline compressor station poses; this was submitted to the Charles County Board of Appeals and is available below.
Additional Information and Resources
Dominion Cove Point LNG has not quantified the level of risk of fire or explosion, or identified the geographic scope of a fire or explosion. Pipeline compressor stations are especially prone to these problems because they are designed to pressurize gas, and they catch fire or explode with some regularity (see video below). U.S. regulatory agencies provide no comprehensive data on compressor accidents to the public. Risks to health and safety and environmental contamination come with natural gas pipeline compressor stations. These compressors operate under high risk conditions, created by the high pressures and reduced temperatures of operation. These conditions cause vibrations, cracks and corrosion leading to failure of mechanical components, explosions and fires.
Dominion has indicated that once construction is complete, no personnel will be on-site after regular business hours weekdays and not at all over weekends; monitoring during those times would be done remotely from Virginia. This not only exacerbates the slow emergency response time, but also raises concerns in the event of natural disaster (e.g., earthquakes, which have occurred in recent years in this area and lead to disrupted emergency communication lines over the Potomac River). Plus, as capable and dedicated as the Volunteer Fire Departments of Bryans Road and Accokeek are, an emergency event of this magnitude would be unprecedented.