Hancock family evacuates after pipeline accident

A family on Hungry Hill in the Delaware County town of Hancock was forced to evacuate their home for the night on Thursday, December 5, after workers building the new Millennium Pipeline natural gas compression station knocked on their door and told them there had been an accident on the site.

The station in Hancock has been under construction since October, and is being built to increase pressure and gas output on the Millennium Pipeline, which stretches across New York State's Southern Tier from Steuben County to Rockland County.

According to Millennium spokesperson Steve Sullivan, workers on the site were connecting another line to the main line when something went awry, forcing the workers to vent millions of gallons of gas from a 10-mile-long stretch of 30-inch pipeline into the atmosphere.

"They needed to vent the gas for safety purposes," Sullivan said. "It was a mechanical issue."

There was no fire at the site, Sullivan said. He said that the family was advised to leave their house for their own safety.

The incident was publicized by Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, an anti-fracking group that opposed the building of the station in Hancock. Permission for the Millennium Pipeline Company to build the station was granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on October 7.

An article in Monday's Daily Star identified the family as Jessica and Andy Kenyon and their two children, ages 4 and 13. In the article, Jessica Kenyon says that company representatives told her family the venting would be very loud, and that they seemed panicked:

“They seemed very nervous and were in a panic,” Jessica Kenyon recalled Friday night.

She said they were advised that the noise from the gas venting would be in excess of 100 decibels and would go for more than an hour. She also said the pipeline representatives offered to put them up at a local hotel. The other houses in the area are seasonal. she said, noting they were the only family that had to be evacuated.

In an interview with the Watershed Post, Sullivan said that Millennium had alerted local officials of the incident immediately, and that local police had thanked the company for keeping them informed. But when contacted on Friday afternoon, the day after the accident, officials at several local agencies were unaware of the incident and could not comment on it, including Delaware County Emergency Services, the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, and the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office. 

Sullivan County public safety commissioner Richard Martinkovic did respond to an inquiry about evacuations in the Hungry Hill area. 

"There was no evacuation that we're aware of," Martinkovic said in a voice message. "There was an incident where a family was asked because of noise if they wanted to relocate, and they did, and now they're back home."

Sullivan said that the incident has not set back the construction of the Hancock compressor station, or affected operations at the site. 

"With all construction, sometimes things don't go as planned," he said. "The company was trying to be sensitive to neighbors and the environment."

Update, 12/10: Today's Sullivan County Democrat reports that several local officials are unhappy with how Millennium handled communications about the incident. Delaware County undersheriff Craig DuMond told the paper that his office was told of a pipe venting at the station, but not that a family had been asked to leave their home: 

“We should have been provided information pertaining to an evacuation, whether voluntary or mandatory,” Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond said yesterday.

Long Eddy Fire Chief Pam Wayne, whose department covers the Hungry Hill area, was informed of the venting and associated road closure shortly after 10 p.m. that night, and again at 1 a.m. when the road was reopened.

She felt Millennium should have informed more residents of Hungry Hill, even though she’s been told this kind of procedure is done “every so often, supposedly to make sure the pipe is good.”

“They should have let a lot more people know,” Wayne remarked, noting that people were calling 911 and police, asking about the situation.