After a year of being locked away in their Philly townhouse, Cameron and Brianna Stevens decided to buy a three-acre home in Delaware County.
“I wanted to raise our children in a healthier, calmer and more peaceful environment,” Brianna Stevens said.
The couple are expecting their first child.
So when they heard that a new elementary school was being offered right across the street, they saw that as a positive point.
“We were like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. You know, it’s handy. It’s cool, she said.
That is, until they learn of the existence of the two pipelines crossing a corner of the proposed school property.
The Rose Tree Media School District wants to build a new elementary school on 36 acres of land in Edgmont to cater for a growing population. And so far the district has paid $ 1.25 million for a plot on the 1500 block of Middletown Road and is currently in agreement with the owner of the second plot next door.
Community meetings about the project addressed a number of concerns, from traffic to noise and lights. But there was little discussion of the two 20-inch parallel pipelines that cross the eastern corners of the property.
“I can’t imagine what is worse than a pipeline on the property you choose to build a school,” Stevens said.
If the Rose Tree Media plan comes to fruition, it wouldn’t be the only school with gas transmission pipelines running through the property – or with other pipelines nearby.
NBC10 investigators mapped all schools and pipelines in the Southeastern Pennsylvania area. And we found that dozens of schools in our area are located near dangerous pipelines.
Schools near pipelines in Southeastern PA
Dozens of schools in the greater Philadelphia area are already near dangerous pipelines, according to an analysis by NBC10 investigators. Search the map to find a school using the magnifying glass at the bottom left.
Pipeline Safety Trust executive director Bill Caram said parents in Rose Tree Media’s catchment area have reason to be concerned about the district’s proposal.
“I am surprised that a new school is being built so close to a gas transmission line because we all want to keep our children safe and the lines present a risk,” Caram said.
If gas were to escape from a fire, it could cause an explosion, like the one in 2016 outside of Pittsburgh. This incident severely burned and injured a man and destroyed a quarter of a mile of land, including at least one house.
The pipeline explosion occurred on the same Enbridge Texas-Eastern gas transmission system that crosses the proposed Edgmont School site.
Pipeline officials determined that corrosion of the pipes led to the 2016 explosion.
Caram said corrosion is a “big concern” on the old lines.
The Pittsburgh line was built in the 1980s. Both at Edgmont date from the 1940s and 1960s, according to an Enbridge spokesperson.
Enbridge declined our interview request.
In a statement, a spokesperson said in part: “We regularly inspect and maintain our pipeline facilities to keep them in good working order. “
In federal records, Enbridge has reported seven gas leak incidents in Pennsylvania since 2013, including the one in 2016 that led to the explosion. Most of these leaks were caused by the failure of parts of the pipeline.
Yet officials from the Rose Tree Media School District are pushing the project forward.
School board principal Jackie Gusic said the two Enbridge pipelines crossing the proposed school property do not pose a safety risk.
“The consultants gave no indication that the pipeline should be of concern for the school to be located on the site,” Gusic said.
District media consultant ICS refused to speak to NBC10 investigators and referred us to the school district.
The district shared the reports they studied to determine the potential risk of pipelines on the proposed school property. But the reports focus on other pipelines that are around 2,000 feet and over 2 miles away, not those on the proposed school property.
“This was part of our research into the documentation that was available to us at the time to help inform our decision,” Gusic said.
The Mariner East 2 pipeline carrying highly volatile liquids, and one of the most controversial in our region, is one of the lines located approximately 2000 feet from the proposed school property. Studies cited by the school indicate that if there was an accident with Mariner East, the risk and consequences could range from 2,000 to 3,000 feet.
Gusic said the district follows all state and federal safety standards. But did not specify what standards.
The State Utilities Commission, which oversees the state’s pipelines, told NBC10 investigators it had no oversight of the two Enbridge Texas-Eastern pipelines at the site of the future school. And the state Department of Education has no say in where a school is built if that school district does not use state funds, which the Rose Tree Media School does. District is not.
With respect to federal regulations, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration does not have authority over a school district wishing to build a school near pipelines. The agency says pipeline operators should calculate the Potential Impact Radius (PIR), or area that would be affected by an incident such as an explosion, to “high consequence areas,” which include schools.
Enbridge has not responded to multiple inquiries regarding the potential impact radius of pipelines passing through the Edgmont property.
Caram said that depending on the size and pressure of the pipes, the radius of the explosion could extend to 400 feet.
“But there is a BIG asterisk on that number given the other pipelines that pass through the property,” Caram said in an email. . “
Caram added that a potential impact radius is usually determined through a risk assessment report. But so far the Rose Tree Media School District has not commissioned such a report – at least not one that has been disclosed publicly.
Jim Cunningham was on the school board when the idea to build a new elementary school on the Middletown Road property arose.
He says he was surprised to hear that the rest of the board were ready to move forward with the plan once they discovered the pipelines on the property.
“We went through two difficult years with Glenwood Elementary School and the pipeline that ran through it,” he said.
Cunningham, who served on the school board from 2015 to 2019, recalled how panicked the district board and director was over a dangerous Sunoco liquid pipeline and valve station that were installed behind the property of Glenwood Elementary School.
“Spending money to prosecute this,” he said.
The district wrote letters to the state PUC calling for an investigation. He also joined a lawsuit against the operators of the pipeline, saying the project “exponentially increases the risk of harm to students, staff and visitors.”
Sunoco, for its part, says it has safely operated pipelines near schools, hospitals and homes for decades.
The lawsuit is still ongoing and last week the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission denied a long-standing request to move the valve station from behind Glenwood Elementary School. The pipeline also remains on the neighboring property.
“Already seen it again,” Cunningham said, referring to Edgmont’s new school proposal.
But Gusic, the current school board member, says the two pipelines carry different products (Edgmont is natural gas; Glenwood has dangerous liquids.)
“They are not the same. They are not equal. We looked at a lot of factors, we looked at safety, ”she said. “And that [Edgmont] site has not indicated as high risk.
However, pipeline safety experts say natural gas transmission pipelines pose a risk and can be dangerous if they leak or explode.
“The gas will come out at the speed of sound like two gigantic jet engines and form a large cloud of vapor which will ignite and may ignite,” said Don Deaver, a former Exxon executive turned pipeline consultant. “I wouldn’t want to live within half a mile of this pipeline myself. “
Dozens of schools by pipeline in Pennsylvania
One of the many schools in Southeastern Pennsylvania near dangerous pipelines is Skippack Elementary in the Perkiomen Valley School District.
Two parallel pipelines – which are part of the same system as the parallel lines that cross Edgmont – pass right by the elementary school.
Perkiomen Valley School District safety supervisor Dean Miller said “it’s not ideal” to have the pipelines there. But that so far, they haven’t had any problems – and are in close contact with Enbridge.
“Our crews know it’s here, how to operate around, what to do if they notice something that’s not correct and who to call,” Miller said.
He said their safety plan called for a preliminary 1,000-foot evacuation of the pipelines, which includes the entire school.
Five other schools in the district also have pipelines nearby – and corresponding safety plans.
In the Rose Tree Media School District, opponents of the new school’s location question why the district is so located on a site so close to pipelines.
“This is not a file that we have to build here. We don’t have to build here. We have options, ”Cunningham said. “So what’s the obsession with this place?” “