***This is heavy sledding but it's important, rather than being a blogger's rant we have included all the relevant text and documentation. Read what the players say in their own words; and judge the contradictions for yourself. ***
Could what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico with the BP oil spill, emerge as a real scenario in central Alabama, with the massive proposed limestone quarry and its close proximity to the two major Colonial & Plantation Pipelines in Shelby County, Alabama?
We will present the facts and possibilities that indeed it could.
A Vincent citizen asked us for permission to use our article as the basis for a letter that she sent out to 36 entities including Kinder Morgan, Plantation Pipeline, US EPA, various press outlets,the quarry PR men, attorneys and local and state officials involved in the quarry project.
Not a single one of them responded to the issues raised other than the quarry geologist who referred to the contents as "bizarre, nonsensical and slanderous," among other things and he chose to respond to the Mayor of Vincent and that town's council exclusively.
What this geologist did not know is that the letter was reviewed by credible environmental engineers before it went out for accuracy and relevancy of the concerns voiced.
Her letter will follow further down in this posting after some introductory information.
White Rock Quarries (WRQ) is proposing a limestone quarry for the Vincent, Alabama area that encompasses 974 acres, excavating to at least 400 ft submitted in their proposal to the Vincent Planning Commission (VPC) March 2010. The Coosa River is in close proximity, approximately 6500 ft. from the center of the quarry property.
The aged Colonial Pipeline (built in 1963) runs on the immediate north edge of a "Water Well Inventory (2 mile radius) and Pre-Blast (1.5 mile radius) Survey Areas" map included with a zoning ordinance revision change to the VPC in April of 2010 by WRQ.
Both of these landmarks are important because it will illustrate how a spill from the pipelines being ruptured from blasting, sinkholes and/or land subsidence will have a greater effect than just the immediate area of the quarry. It could affect the eastern US supplies. This pipeline also runs under the Coosa River.
If a rupture occurs and infiltrates the ground water, which it inevitably will, the Coosa will also be at risk of being affected, which could then carry the oil, jet fuel, diesel fuel, etc., into other waterways that are part of the Coosa's drainage such as the Tallapoosa and Alabama Rivers described below:
Army Corp of Engineers descriptor on the Coosa River:
"The Coosa River mainstem is formed when the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers converge near Rome, Georgia. The drainage area of the upper Coosa tributaries above Rome covers approximately 4,000 square miles. (Corps) The Coosa then flows 286 miles from Rome to north of Montgomery where it joins the Tallapoosa to form the Alabama River."
PDF link to Alabama River systems (note that the Alabama River drains to Gulf of Mexico):RiverMap
If the pipeline rupture occurs near the Coosa River Loop, that is well within the 1.5 mile blast zone, or under the river then the spill goes directly into the river (read SC spill further down). The river currents can quickly carry it out of the area and downstream to the state's other major waterways and downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Colonial Pipelines are highly pressurized and carry different products at varying amounts from Texas, through Alabama and the eastern seaboard to New York:
Colonial Pipeline, headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, delivers a daily average of 100 million gallons (398 million liters) of gasoline, home heating oil, aviation fuel and other refined petroleum products to communities and businesses throughout the South and Eastern United States.
Colonial consists of more than 5,500 mi (8,900 km) of pipeline, originating at Houston, Texas, and terminating at New York harbor. The pipeline travels through the coastal states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Branches from the main pipeline also reach Tennessee.
The main lines are 40 inches (1,000 mm) and 36 inches (910 mm) in diameter, with one primarily devoted to gasoline and the other carrying distillate products such as jet fuel, diesel fuel, and home heating oil. The pipeline connects directly to major airports along the system. Fifteen associated tank farms store more than 1.2 billion gallons of fuel and provide a 45 day supply for local communities.
Products move through the mainlines at a rate of about three to five miles per hour. It generally takes from 14 to 24 days for a batch to get from Houston, Texas to the New York harbor, with 18.5 days the average time.
The above graphic and information shows what goes through these lines and how much on a regular basis. A spill of any of these materials would have disastrous effects on the environment and surrounding communities in Alabama, and economic impacts in all the other states they serve. Colonial says the fuel tank farms have enough for a 45 day supply to the local communities. Does that include the major airports? Probably not since they are tied directly to the pipeline.
Two companies supply the eastern seaboard; Colonial and Plantation. These are their systems maps:
Reuters NY article about Colonial & Plantation, how much they supply the eastern seaboard and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on their supplies:
From the above article:
The shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline for two days this week was a major factor pushing gasoline prices sharply higher. In turn, recovery of the line on Friday brought down wholesale gasoline prices in the Gulf Coast cash oil products market, oil traders and brokers said.
Two days shutdown and it affected gasoline prices.
That certainly makes a rupture in our area go nationwide in its consequences.
The letter in its entirety:
To those concerned:
I would like to present some concerns about the proximity of the proposed quarry in Vincent, Alabama near the Colonial and Plantation pipelines, the Coosa River and the strong possibility of subsidence and sinkholes resulting from massive groundwater withdrawals from the proposed quarry.
What has been addressed so far about this issue is contradictory to the facts. I request that the issues I outline in this letter receive serious consideration and much deeper examination, before any further action is taken regarding the Vincent Hills Quarry.
I urge all involved to proceed with an abundance of caution, exercise greater due diligence and consider what could happen. The Gulf of Mexico tragedy clearly illustrates what happens when profit comes before safety.
Presentation of documented communications Part I:
The following is a copy of a letter from Colonial Pipeline to Tom Joiner & Associates, Robert T. Wood geologists for White Rock Quarries, from Sam Whitehead of Colonial Pipeline:
Wednesday March 3, 2010 8:18 am SWhitehe@colpipe.com
The following statement is from a Colonial engineer and details the basis of our determination that the proposed quarry does not cause undue concern regarding potential impacts to our pipelines in Shelby County.
Contact me if you need anything further.
Colonial Pipeline Company
678 762 2333
Cell: 404 272 3250
Statement of Colonial engineer:
I have reviewed the two reports provided to me in regards to the potential effects of the proposed quarry approximately 1.5 miles from our mainlines #1 and #2.
The "Hydrogeological and Subsidence Evaluation" dated November 24, 2009, prepared by White Rock Quarries, LLC's consulting geologists and engineers states that the greatest radius of influence from the quarry is 0.7 miles. In a conversation with Robert Wood, one of the author's of this report, on 2/22/2010, he stated that he expects a 0.2 foot change in groundwater elevation at 0.7 miles from the quarry. He also stated that they have observed 17.67 feet fluctuations of water depths in wells in this area, One could assume that a 0.2 foot change in groundwater elevation caused from quarry operations would be imperceptible with that much naturally occurring change.
On 2/25/2010, I spoke with Kevin Scott of Bhate Geosciences Corporation, who produced a report on the effects of the proposed quarry on a building owned by Vulcan Information Packaging(VIP) dated November 4, 2009. When I asked Kevin about the area of influence of the proposed quarry, he stated that the study they did was only to determine the effects of the proposed quarry on this particular site, and he did not have any information that they produced that he could share as far as the extent of the influence. He did share with me that there are published reports from the quarries (sic) people that stated the maximum area of influence was 0.7 miles. This is consistent with the other report that I reviewed.
It is my understanding that the change in groundwater levels in the areas with limestone (which is present in areas in this part of Alabama) is the cause of sinkholes.
From the information in these reports and from the above conversations, I conclude that the risk of sinkholes caused by the proposed quarry under Colonial's lines is not significantly greater than it would be without the quarry.
It is also my understanding that it has already been determined that blasting operations from this quarry's operations will not have an impact on Colonial's lines.
I did no analysis for blasting, and I assume that the previous analysis is correct.
Senior Mechanical Engineer
Engineering & Project Managing Team
Colonial Pipeline Company
678 762 2494 office
678 447 5561 mobile
Mr. Coordes did no blasting analysis himself and took the word of the quarry geologists and experts that there would be no risk to Colonial's pipelines. By contacting Mr. Scott, he did attempt to get more information, which was specific to only the immediate area of VIP plant, which is not near the pipelines. He should have done more than this with what is at stake. What seems to be conspicuously absent from this letter is that maximum area of influence (cone of influence) is measured from each pit, not an arbitrary measurement applied to the center of the quarry property.
Had Mr. Coordes or Mr. Whitehead spoken with Uday Bhate, who has done the public geologic presentations for Ebsco (VIP), Mr. Coordes would have known this. He would have also known that Mr. Bhate made it very clear that as the pit widens and deepens the cone of influence extends out farther and farther.
0.7 miles is not a distance regarding the cone of influence and groundwater fluctuations that remains constant and fixed in one place throughout the life of the quarry. It will change and move as the pits are dug and deepened and greater amounts of water are withdrawn.
Additionally, since quarries do not read reports, groundwater level fluctuations are changeable and also subject to geographic factors, pumpage rates and precipitation levels; a 0.2 level change in groundwater levels cannot be stated to be concrete with such unpredictable factors influencing it.
I do not accept anyone saying that they "expect a 0.2 change in groundwater levels 0.7 miles from the quarry" as an unchangeable fact based on the above. Especially with such a huge amount of groundwater that will be withdrawn by the quarry.
Karst terrain is by definition unstable. Sinkholes can form in unexpected areas, in particular where ground excavation and changes to the groundwater flow rate are disturbed.
Presentation of documented communications part II:
*The Vincent Water Board requested daily physical land subsidence monitoring that was denied by White Rock Quarries:
Same Memorandum from Robert Wood to the VPC, March 16, 2010, page 5, item 11:
The Subsidence Monitoring Plan does not include subsidence monitoring by reconnaissance. The Vincent Water Board requests that areas near the proposed quarry which are considered at risk of subsidence be physically monitored on a daily basis, including public roads, railroads and cemeteries:
Response: White Rock does not believe it is best to traverse, daily adjacent properties such as public roads, railroads and cemeteries. Other subsidence monitoring techniques, plus visual observations along roadways, rail lines, industrial sites or private property will provide adequate early warning of possible subsidence. There is already an existing potential for subsidence in any of these areas and the public interests have been well served in the Vincent Community.
A daily requirement to monitor adjacent property would require one or two additional employees.
White Rock is willing to work with the Board to agree on an acceptable monitoring plan.
The Vincent Water Board's request is wise and "one or two additional employees" on the payroll of WRQ, to help ensure that potential problems are quickly detected, is a small price to pay in contrast to the millions of dollars in profit from the limestone extraction.
What also seems at odds is the blast radius of 1.5 miles, designated by WRQ and the cone of influence from groundwater fluctuations at just under half that distance. Why is one afforded a greater radius for potential damage and not the other?
There have been major discrepancies between Mr. Bhate's and Mr. Wood's geological presentations and manner in which they have done these presentations that raise questions. Both sides are hired to represent their client's interests, but Mr. Bhate has not once descended into the political aspect of this proposed quarry with name-calling, nor has he gone on the attack against anyone as Mr. Wood has done.
In the last public meeting at the firehouse in Vincent, Mr. Wood addressed the racial disparity in the land transactions; not one minority resident was approached to buy their land by WRQ. That seems out of place and inappropriate for any geologist to discuss.
Mr. Wood has downplayed the geological studies of John G. Newton (in this same memorandum), hired by the state of Alabama in the 1970s, to study the increased sinkholes and land subsidence in Shelby County, Alabama from groundwater withdrawal. Mr. Newton was a geologist of high credibility and extremely knowledgeable of the subject he wrote on. He did extensive studies in the Shelby County, Alabama area for the state and the USGS.
Presentation of Facts Part III:
The following statements are made by Mr. Wood in response to one of Mr. Newton's reports in the Dry Valley area of Montevallo, Alabama:
To: The Vincent Planning Commission
From: Robert T.Wood, Tom Joiner & Associates, Inc.
Re: White Rock Quarries' responses to comments provided by (1) Mr. William R. Justice for the Town of Vincent and the Vincent Water Board by letter March 3, 2010 and the Vincent Planning Commission during March 4, 2010 Work Session (This letter also went to Kristine Goddard, Planner II Shelby County Department of Development Services)
Page 8, item 5:
John Newton's Publications regarding Dry Creek and Dry Creek Valley:
Response: "White Rock's Hydrogeological study acknowledges studies and publications by John Newton. However, Mr. Newton's study was performed over 40 years ago when operator's responses were different from today. In fact, in the early 1970s, sinkholes could be related to drought. He never determined how many of the sinkholes within his study area would have occurred anyway had there been no mining. The sinkholes that he documented occurred only within 4/10ths of a mile from the quarry in question.
The geology and hydrogeology of Dry Valley is very different form the Vincent area. Finally, the Dry Valley area, where Mr. Newton did his study, is also different from Vincent in that there are numerous quarries pumping groundwater instead of one quarry. This creates different circumstances than the proposed Vincent Hills Quarry site because numerous dewatering sites from three or more quarries creates a dewatered "zone" in-between the quarries.
Also with multiple quarry operators, the quarries in Dry Valley discharge across each other's cones of groundwater depression and the dewatered zones, inducing more sinkholes.
None of these activities will take place near Vincent."
Link to Mr. Newton's study "cited" by Robert Wood;
9.11.2 GEOLOGIC AND HYDROLOGIC SETTING, Page 245:
The terrain used to illustrate sinkhole development is a youthful basin underlain by carbonate
rocks such as limestone and dolomite (Figure 9.11.1). The basin contains a perennial or near-perennial stream. This particular terrain is used because it is very similar to that of 10
active areas of sinkhole development in Alabama that have been examined by the author. Factors related to the development of sinkholes that have been observed in these areas are generally applicable to other carbonate terrains.
(This is precisely the same description of the karst terrain for the Vincent area geology.)
9.11.3 CAUSE, Page 246
A relationship between the formation of sinkholes and high pumpage of water from new wells was recognized in Alabama as early as 1933 (Johnston, 1933). Subsequent studies in Alabama (Robinson and others, 1953; Powell and LaMoreaux, 1969; Newton and Hyde, 1971; Newton and others, 1973; and Newton, 1976) have verified this relationship. Dewatering or the continuous withdrawal of large quantities of water from carbonate rocks by wells, quarries, and mines in numerous areas in Alabama is associated with extremely active sinkhole development. Numerous collapses in these areas contrast sharply with their lack of occurrence elsewhere.
Two areas in Alabama in which intensive sinkhole development has occurred and is occurring
have been studied in detail. Both areas were made prone to the development of sinkholes by major declines of the water table due to the withdrawal of ground water.
Mr. Newton is very clear on the occurrence of sinkholes in relation to groundwater withdrawal in contrast to adjacent areas and drought conditions. He also says nothing in this study regarding "Numerous quarries were discharging across each others cones of dewatering" as Mr. Wood asserts.
Mr. Wood also omits one other obvious and much more important fact contrasting mining 40 years ago and today's mining; modern day quarries are capable of withdrawing larger amounts of groundwater and at a much greater GPM volume than they were 40 years ago.
I will argue that one quarry today can pull as much groundwater as three from forty years ago.
Presentation of Facts Part III continued:
9.11.4 MAGNITUDE AND AREAL EXTENT Page 248
In Alabama, most induced sinkholes related to water withdrawals from wells, except those drilled specifically for dewatering purposes, were found within 150 m of the site of withdrawal.
The yield of these wells commonly exceeds 22 l/s. Most sinkholes related to quarry operations were found within 600 m of the point of withdrawal; those related to mining operations can occur several kilometres from the point of withdrawal.
The range for sinkholes according to Mr. Newton is 600m (.38 miles) to several kilometers (3 km = 1.86 miles, 4km = 2.98 miles)
Mr. Wood claims Newton found sinkholes only within "4/10ths of a mile." He conveniently left off the second half of the statement which addressed the additional distance sinkholes can occur "related to mining operations."
Mr. Newton's study in comparison to Mr. Wood's claims, suggests that there is a huge disparity in the published facts and the recited ones.
The Colonial Pipeline and its distance from the quarry; which is well within the range of Mr. Newton's study results is likely vulnerable to sinkholes and subsidence from increased groundwater withdrawal by the quarry and in turn, rupture.
A strong case can be made for the ensuing danger to these pipelines and the grave environmental risk.
Presentation of Facts Part IV:
Shelby County's 2009 All Hazards Multi-Jurisdictional Mitigation Plan (AHMJMP) demonstrates on pages 4-20, that the concern for catastrophic incident is of high because of the pipeline's aging infrastructure, the suddenness of the disaster and the large scale environmental damage that can occur before authorities are made aware of the disaster.
But even more disturbing is the assumed preparedness of government officials to respond to a pipeline disaster quickly and effectively, as there already seems to be confusion over the appropriate entity entrusted with this responsibility.
More specifically, on page 7-26 the statement is made that;
"The State of Alabama, along with gas and oil pipeline providers, maintains a pipeline safety plan. Pipeline providers are required to schedule meetings with local officials to facilitate discussions about mitigation and response to pipeline disasters."
However, it is my understanding that the Colonial and Plantation Pipelines, because they are interstate pipelines, are under the oversight of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a subdivision of the USDOT, not the State of Alabama.
I am troubled over this apparent error as it appears in Shelby County's AHMJMP, and am concerned that this represents a lack of clear understanding regarding the identity of first responding agency should a pipeline disaster occur.
This link to Shelby County's Hazard Mitigation Plan 2009 Amendments Sections shows there have already been issues with these pipelines.
Section 1.1.3 HISTORIC HAZMAT EVENTS:
*(It is interesting to note the numerous hazmat events of heavy industries releases and almost all fields for the amounts released are blank. Included in these are benzene, arsenic, sulfuric acid, PCB s, xylene, "coal produced" liquid, sulfur dioxide, cyanide and mercury)
Seven events are from Colonial, and two of them are from Plantation pipeline.
Colonial Pipeline has already paid 34 million to the EPA, the largest civil suit in the agency's history. For the company to put themselves at risk for yet another incident is troubling. Particularly, when the letter submitted by Colonial to Robert Wood, essentially, absolves WRQ of legal responsibility should a rupture be caused by the quarrying activities.
NTSB file on South Carolina 1996 CP rupture in the Reedy River:
Page 9, Item 6 in Tom Joiner & Associates Memorandum from Robert T. Wood, March 16, 2010:
6. NO RESPONSE FROM PLANTATION PIPELINE
Response: Since White Rock received a favorable response from Colonial Pipeline regarding possible impacts from the proposed Vincent Hills Quarry, it is highly unlikely that Plantation Pipeline has concerns. It has not provided any negative information regarding the quarry. Plantation Pipeline is approximately 1.5 miles further away from the quarry than the Colonial Pipeline. Since proximity is a factor with respect to groundwater, subsidence and blasting, the fact that the Plantation Pipeline is twice as far from the proposed quarry, approximately three miles, ensures that it will not be impacted by White Rock's operations at the site.
Plantation Pipeline did not respond at all, so how does Mr. Wood arrive at the conclusion that they have no concerns? Of course they did not "provide any negative information regarding the quarry," they provided NO information at all.
This pipeline, at just less than 3 miles, is also within the range of Mr. Newton's study results for subsidence and sinkhole risks.
Looking at the most recent maps from WRQ, the Colonial pipeline is approximately 1.5 miles from the site; page 8 of 25; "Water Well Inventory and Pre Blast Survey Areas Map." Using the scale of miles provided on the legend of this map, the Colonial Pipeline is approximately 6000 ft. from the initial mining pit boundary. This makes it even closer to blasting and excavation by the quarry.
I do not understand why Colonial says it has "no undue concerns" about a massive quarry locating so close to its pipelines. The information they have received from Mr. Wood and White Rock does not accurately reflect the risks and in fact, it is not in keeping with the actual study of John Newton.
For Mr. Coordes to state; "I did no analysis for blasting and assume the previous analysis is correct" seems perfunctory at best. Colonial and Plantation both should have an independent survey done by an impartial third party to fully understand the potential effects of the quarrying operations on it's pipelines.
In the current climate of the petroleum industry, these two companies should think ahead and exercise an abundance of caution. Shelby County should also follow suit and do the same. A rupture of these lines will have consequences outside of the Vincent area since they service the entire eastern seaboard and 13 major airports along the way.
Presentation of Facts Part V:
The Coosa River was just placed on the list of the most endangered rivers in the United States and since the Colonial line runs under the river, this should be taken into consideration as well.
A conversation with Matt Rice of American Rivers on Tuesday, June 12, 2010 about this quarry locating so close to the Coosa was revealing. He told me if they had known about this proposed quarry, it would have been considered when writing their report on the river's status, since the quarry will be operating within a mile of the river and excavating far below its depth.
An argument can be made that Colonial's pipeline faces an additional threat on this issue as well.
In the absence of independent studies by third party geologists without interests to White Rock Quarries, other industry "insiders" or individuals acting on their behalf including geologists, we have no unbiased information of the effects of this proposed quarry.
Bhate Geosciences, despite their strong reputation and credibility, has had their attempts to present another view dismissed by our local officials, Shelby County and White Rock Quarries.
The city of Vincent refuses to secure an independent despite offers to pay for this on more than one occasion by Ebsco industries. In a recent City Council meeting, the Mayor of Vincent stated; "We don't have money to pay for one," even though he was aware, the offer was made to pay for one.
It would appear that those directly involved in this proposition are not interested in opposing viewpoints and they do their citizens and the environment a tremendous disservice and possibly great harm by taking this closed-minded position.
The location of this quarry is risky at best; what could go wrong is compelling and probable. To proceed with this proposal in the absence of more thorough investigation and study, borders on willful disregard for the safety of the local community and beyond, in addition to the environmental assaults that can occur with consequences that will require attention for years to come.
One more thing that is important to consider comes from a long time resident of Vincent that was at the scene of a Colonial Pipeline repair a few years ago. This person is a master electrician and drives many of the area roads on a daily basis in the course of his work.
"I came up on the Vincent Police (VP) guarding an area by the road a few years ago where the pipeline guys were working. I stopped and got out to see why they were there and what was being done, they had dug out all around the pipeline. I asked the VP why they were guarding the area. A Colonial Pipeline guy popped his head up and said; "If a car runs off the road and hits this pipeline, causing it to rupture, everything within 1/4 mile eastward of the rupture will be gone."
When asked what "gone" meant, the CP worker said; "It will be burned up or covered in oil."Federal regulations state that it may take "up to 15 minutes to stop the flow in the event of a pipeline rupture."
Considering the high pressure these pipelines are under 15 minutes is a long time.
"Everything within 1/4 mile eastward of the rupture will be gone."
We would like to ask the Governor of this state why he thinks it is a good idea for this quarry to come in, to supply materials for his elevated highway project, knowing that these pipelines, which supply the entire eastern seaboard, will be highly vulnerable to rupture from the effects of the quarry.
Especially since a rupture has huge consequences outside of Alabama.
This is a disaster waiting to happen, to Vincent, to Alabama, to other states, and our Governor is willing to risk a lot for "his project."
Colonial Pipeline has had problems in the past and seem negligent in their duty to comprehensively study this proposal with independent, credible outside geologists and engineers.
Colonial owns and operates a 36-inch pipeline extending from Houston to New York which transports petroleum products. In late June 1996, Colonial's pipeline ruptured at its junction with the Reedy River in Greenville County, spilling approximately one million gallons of diesel fuel into the river.
Gurley, Alabama came out against Colonial Pipeline in the late 1990s:
WRQ has already caused huge environmental issues in Florida with the benzene in the drinking water supply;
Stephen Bradley's (WRQ PR Rep) actions at the Emelle, Alabama Landfill in the early 1990s are well documented in the media and ADEM files on the illegal radioactive waste dumping and PCBs contamination.(Google news papers have these stories in their archives and we have the ADEM files on it. Mr. Bradley is described as a Chem Waste spokesman in the article, but he is in fact the President of the company at Emelle.)
Google link to one story:
No one involved in this quarry proposal has a history of being cautious, environmentally conscious, responsible to public safety and adequately following the federal regulations imposed on their interests.
Vecellio, along with other major corporations has very deep pockets.
It is cheaper to allegedly bribe and pay a few fines and settle lawsuits (after 10-15 years of delay) than it is to be a "good neighbor."
This is not a quarry proposal, it is Alabama's oil spill, and it can happen.
(originally posted May 29, 2010)