Rural Macomb County residents plead for better safety from proposed gas compressor | Michigan Radio
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Rural Macomb County residents plead for better safety from proposed gas compressor

Jul 5, 2019

Damage from a 2014 explosion at site of Bluewater Gas Storage facility
Credit Courtesy Vandyke Horn

A group of northern Macomb residents are bracing for the construction of a new gas compressor station, saying it lacks a safety feature that could protect them in the event of an explosion.

The community near the site on Omo Road in Ray Township is about a mile from the Consumers Energy gas compressor station that was shut down temporarily in January when a fire broke out.

Advocates say that's made residents even more fearful than they were before, and that the company that plans to build the new station, Bluewater Gas Storage, has a bad track record in the area.

Valerie Brader of Rivenoak Consulting says there were explosions in 2011 and 2014 at Bluewater-operated compressor stations in the area.

"These are folks whose homes shook in the Consumers explosion and whose homes shook  in the 2014 explosion, so these are folks who have been personally affected," says Brader.

Brader says there's a common-sense solution that would add very little to the $40 million dollar cost of the project. 

She says an earthen berm around the compressor station would protect residents from an explosion or fire that starts at the station - and also prevent drivers from accidentally piling into the station and causing an explosion.

She says that's what happened in Melvindale in 2016, when she was Michigan Department of Energy Director.

"An impaired driver veers off the road and hits an above-ground gas main, and they evacuate a thousand or more people out of Melvindale at 3:00 in the morning," says Brader.  "The fire chief said it was the worst fire he had ever seen in his life."

Brader says the big problem for residents is the Federal Energy Regulating Commission does not require earthen berms around compressor stations, even though it would also protect Bluewater Storage from having to pay damages in the event of an accident.

That leaves residents hoping they can convince Bluewater Storage, which is owned by Wisconsin Energy Corp., to do it anyway, as a show of good neighborliness.

Brendan Conway, a spokesman for Wisconsin Energy, sent the following statement:

Safety is always our first priority in the design and operation of our facilities. The proposed compressor station is designed to meet all the safety standards required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

We also follow extensive preventive measures and procedures, including, preventive maintenance, 24/7 pipeline monitoring, ground surveys, cathodic protection to inhibit corrosion, and in-line inspections to ensure pipeline integrity.

We have met with the neighbors and community to discuss the project and will continue to address their concerns as we work through the permitting process.