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The federal agency in charge of pipeline safety issued a July 16 warning letter to Shell for safety problems on a pipeline that will feed its Beaver County ethane cracker.

In August 2020, inspectors from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) examined a section of the Falcon pipeline, which will carry natural gas liquids to the plant.

Mao of the Falcon Pipeline

The route of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline through Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Image: Fractracker Alliance.

The agency alleged Shell committed two “probable violations” by failing to place pipeline sections at a construction site in Beaver County on protective padding.

The maximum penalty allowed under the law would have been $225,134 per violation, per day. However, the agency chose not to issue a fine. Instead, it ordered the company to correct the alleged deficiencies. 

In a letter to PHMSA, Shell says the two infractions were isolated, and that it’s inspected the 97-mile pipeline, which goes through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, multiple times. This included one final inspection, known as a “jeep,” before the entire length was lowered into the ground. It says it will perform a full safety check on the line in two years, ahead of the five years mandated by federal regulations. 

The pipeline had previously been the subject of scrutiny from PHMSA in a separate case. A whistleblower complaint in 2019 alleged contractors working on the pipeline used defective corrosion coatings. But PHMSA ended that investigation — which was not related to the recent warning letter — without issuing any penalties against Shell. 

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.