FRANKLINVILLE — Patrick Duddy was looking over his Facebook page Thursday when he found a YouTube video of what was an apparent leak in a natural gas line in a state forest near Franklinville.
The Pittsburgh resident, who was in Colorado at the time, was curious when someone on the cellphone video said he had reported the gas leak to National Fuel Gas, but it wasn’t scheduled to be repaired until January.
The video was shot by Ryan Weatherley of Olean and included Tim Ross, also of Olean. Posted on YouTube by ViralHog, the video had nearly 500 views as of Saturday morning.
"This is why North Dakota doesn't want that stupid pipeline," Weatherley can be heard saying as he shoots video of the leaks creating bubbling in puddles along the right of way, referring to the ongoing fierce opposition of a 1,700 crude oil pipeline being built in part through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. "Billions of dollars going into our drinking water. Isn't that great?"
The Franklinville-area leaks were from a National Fuel gas line; the Standing Rock standoff involves concerns that the crude oil pipeline being constructed by Energy Transfer Partners would desecrate sacred tribal lands while also threatening drinking water sources. Thousands of supporters of the Sioux and environmental activists have flocked to the Standing Rock lands to protest and block completion of the pipeline there.
In an accompanying narrative with the video, Weatherley wrote: “I was hunting on state land and walked on gas pipeline and found the leak. I called the pipeline company and they said they would handle it, but I should leave the area. I went back in my car with my friend and they called back. They verified that there was a leak and that they wouldn't be able to do anything until after Christmas.”
A former employee for oil companies in the natural gas business in upstate New York, Duddy said his coming across the video was happenstance, but he was concerned over the amount of gas that seemed to be shooting out of mud puddles along the gas line right of way.
“I called an emergency number at National Fuel Gas,” Duddy said. “They gave me another number. I was on hold for a while. When someone came on the line, I asked if a gas leak in Franklinville, N.Y., had been reported and that there was a video of it.”
Duddy said the person told him the leak had been reported but wasn’t sure it had been repaired yet. Duddy mentioned the video that indicated the leak wouldn’t be repaired until January
What possessed a Pittsburgh resident visiting Colorado to call National Fuel Gas’ Buffalo office to see if a gas leak discovered by deer hunters in a rural area had been reported?
“We all have to look after one another,” Duddy said, noting he had been bored when he started watching the video. It had 23 views. When he heard of the six-week delay in addressing the leak, he decided to make a few calls in a bit of investigative journalism.
Contacted by the Times Herald, Karen L. Merkel, National Fuel corporate communications director, said Friday the company has been aware of the leak for some time.
When it was discovered, it was determined to be “a Type 3 leak that did not require an urgent fix based on its location” in a rural area, Merkel said.
A National Fuel operations team saw the video of the leak in Franklinville on Thursday, and on Friday crews went to the scene to measure the extent of the leak to determine if it had gotten worse since the company first became aware of it, Merkel said.
A couple of calls were also received earlier this week by the company regarding the leak.
“We knew about the leak long before we saw it on YouTube,” Merkel said.
“The (bubbling) water makes it look worse than it is. We have been aware of it, but it was not a safety risk.”
The leak is not contaminating groundwater, according to National Fuel.
“Natural gas is naturally occurring,” Merkel said. “There’s not a risk of explosion with a Type 3 leak. ... We have a crew there now. It’s a very rural location, and it is very wet now. We would have to get equipment and tools to the location.”
By measuring the output of the leaks, National Fuel will be able to determine if the leak has gotten worse, which could raise it from a Type 3 to a Type 2, which would require a quicker response.
“Safety is our top priority,” Merkel said.
Late Friday afternoon, Merkel said crews had measured the extent of the leak, which had not changed in over a year. It is still a Type 3 leak.
However, Merkel said, “because of the volume of calls received about this leak in light of the Facebook and YouTube videos, we are in the process of repairing it so our system isn't inundated with leak calls that does not involve an inherent safety risk.
“We simply concentrate resources on priority issues like Type 1 and 2 leaks, watered-down lines and installation of new services.”