For third time in two months, a natural gas line vents on Sauvie Island, drawing company probe

by: FILE PHOTO - Crews work to shut off an emergency release valve on a natural gas transfer station on Sauvie Island Jan. 10.Sauvie Island residents awoke to the piercing sound of natural gas rushing from the valve of a nearby pipeline Monday, March 10, marking the third time in two months the station’s release valve activated to relieve pressure within the line.

“At 6:20 a.m. this morning, the gas plant on the island started blowing its top again,” wrote Sauvie Island resident Jane Hartline in an email to the Spotlight. “It sounds like an alien invasion or the start of WWIII.”

The transfer station is meant for directing natural gas to Sauvie Island residents from the Northwest Pipeline, which is owned and managed by Williams Partners LP, of Tulsa, Okla. Williams representatives said the gas releases are likely being caused by debris entering the transfer station.

Michele Swaner, spokeswoman for Williams, said in light of the recent incidents with the transfer station, company representatives will hold an informative town hall meeting at the Sauvie Island Grange Saturday, March 20, at 7 p.m.

Swaner said although the sound of the release valve expelling gas is loud, all mechanisms of the Sauvie Island transfer station were operating properly.

“Everything was operating the way it should in terms of safety,” she said. “That’s what the release valves are supposed to do. We realize it’s an inconvenience for people and realize the sound of the gas venting is very loud.”

The valve first vented gas Jan. 10 and resulted in an evacuation of nearby residents, a closure of the Sauvie Island Bridge and a closure of Sauvie Island Academy. The valve vented gas again Feb. 22, leading to a closure of Gillihan Road, the road on which the transfer station is located.

Swaner said the frequent releases may continue until Williams can identify the cause. She said the current theory is that debris is getting into the transfer station’s regulator, which measures gas pressure in the lines.

“You get sediment in the machinery,” she said. “These are huge machines and they’re maintained all the time, but you do get things in them.”

As the company works to resolve the issue, more gas expulsions could occur, Swaner said. In the meantime, Williams plans to have personnel at the transfer station around the clock in case the valve should release again.

Swaner said island residents should not be concerned, but cautioned them to stay away from the transfer station in the event of subsequent gas releases.

“First of all, the air is safe,” she said. “Natural gas is lighter than air, so it dissipates in the atmosphere. In terms of precautions, it’s always good to be safe. The best advice I could give is to let our personnel and emergency responders do what they need to do.”

For the gas to ignite, Swaner said an ignition source would have to be in the direct vicinity of the valve, adding that residents should not be concerned about turning on stoves, lights or other devices that might produce a spark.

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