Sunday, January 27, 2013

UGI's safety record: "downright alarming" and "patently unacceptable"

UGI is Pennsylvania's largest gas utility. After Hurricane Irene knocked out electric service to tens of thousands of residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania in August 2011, the slow response and lack of preparedness by UGI's electric division meant that UGI's electricity customers found themselves without power long after customers of other utilities had rejoined the modern world.

UGI was featured in two articles in the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice this past Friday, January 25. The first appeared on page 10, and had to do with UGI deciding to go ahead with plans to construct a pipeline, despite a denial of a "special exception" that would allow them to construct a gas compressor station that would be tied in to the pipeline.

UGI pushes ahead with pipeline plans
Published: January 25, 2013

Although plans for a natural gas compressor station in West Wyoming are temporarily on hold, UGI Energy Services still plans to construct a pipeline that will provide UGI Penn Natural Gas customers with gas from Northeastern Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.

"We're moving forward with the pipeline regardless," said Kevin Kelleher, manager of producer services for UGI Energy Services Inc. in Wyomissing.

The company plans to run approximately 28 miles of 24-inch diameter pipeline from an existing facility in Washington Township, Wyoming County, to connect to a UGI utility line and the Transco interstate pipeline in West Wyoming.

UGI is obtaining required state permits, including from the Department of Environmental Protection. The company hopes to begin clearing the right-of-way in the spring, with the bulk of pipeline construction to take place during summer and early fall, Kelleher said.

...The route, as drawn up by Quad3 Group, starts at UGI's Washington Township facility and runs through Eaton and Northmoreland townships in Wyoming County.

In Luzerne County, the route goes through Franklin Township, under Cummings, Brace, Village, Sutton and Ridge roads, then crosses West Eighth Street and Coon Road. It then goes into Kingston Township beneath Mount Olivet Road, skirts Frances Slocum State Park and goes under Carverton Road and then into West Wyoming.

(full article)

Meanwhile, three pages later, we see this article from the AP about what people living in the vicinity of this pipeline can expect in the future:

Pa. fines utility $500K over blast that killed 5
By PETER JACKSON, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Utility regulators voted on Thursday to fine Pennsylvania's largest gas utility $500,000 for a 2011 natural gas explosion that killed five people in Allentown and called the company's safety record "downright alarming."

The Public Utility Commission unanimously approved modifications to a settlement with UGI Corp. that boosted the civil fine from $386,000 to the maximum allowed by law at the time of the explosion.

The settlement also requires the Reading, Pa.-based company to replace all its cast iron pipelines within 14 years and to expand and enhance its testing and monitoring programs.

The thunderous blast, which was traced to a crack in a cast iron gas main, killed five people, flattened a pair of rowhouses and set fire to a block of homes late one night in February 2011. Utility workers toiled for five hours to punch through ice, asphalt and concrete and seal the 12-inch main with foam to stop the flow of gas.

In their joint motion to modify the settlement, PUC Chairman Robert Powelson and Vice Chairman John Coleman said UGI's record of safety compliance is "patently unacceptable."

"This is the eighth time in slightly more than four years that this commission has adjudicated a matter containing allegations of gas safety violations by a UGI-owned gas distribution utility," they said. "This goes beyond cause for concern; it is downright alarming."

(full article)

Do you think anyone living near this new pipeline has any cause for concern? Living here in coal country, we know firsthand how concerned utilities are about cleaning up their messes after the boom goes bust. Will the gas industry be any different from the coal industry?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pecha Kucha Night January 26 at the Vintage

Another event at the Vintage in Scranton! Read all about it here! I will be presenting "A Brief History of NEPA Blogs"! Michelle Hryvnak Davies and several other NEPA bloggers will also be presenting!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Poetry Night Thursday, January 17 at The Vintage in Scranton

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers Collective will be hosting its monthly Open Mic Poetry Night at The Vintage, 326 Spruce Street in Scranton, on Thursday, January 17. Go here for more details.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

NEPA Blogs maintenance

Longtime readers - or new readers who casually glance at my sidebar - may be aware that this isn't my only blog. I've got several others, but one of the most significant is NEPA Blogs, a blog dedicated to blogs and blogging in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I've recounted the history of that site numerous times, so I won't do it again now - though I am planning to do it in a few weeks when I do a Pecha Kucha presentation on the history of NEPA Blogs. Which means I have to gather up twenty images, and be prepared to speak about each for twenty seconds. Ohboy.

NEPA Blogs is still running on a Blogger/Blogspot platform. This is mainly due to my inertia: I know Blogger, I don't know Wordpress, which is a platform that a lot of people are insisting we need to move it to. I'm not really ready to learn a whole new system at the moment, and I imagine transferring over every previous post, every link, and every comment would be an enormous undertaking. On top of that, it seems like every Wordpress blog I know of has gotten hacked or infected at one time or another. In fact, an alert just went out that many Wordpress blogs are vulnerable to data theft because of a security flaw in a popular plug-in. Fun.

But Blogger has some limitations. Google (the owner of Blogger) has taken a standard approach to complaints about issues: provide a forum for users to complain about issues, state that the issues are being dealt with, delete all the complaints, and redesign the complaint forum. Maybe the issue will be dealt with, maybe not.

One of those limitations wouldn't even be an issue for most bloggers, but it is for NEPA Blogs. Blogger allows you to have "live links" on your sidebar that link to both the primary page of the linked site and the latest post as presented by the site's RSS feed. A nice feature of this is that the links will arrange themselves so the most recently updated sites appear at the top. We use this as a way of displaying all the blogs linked by NEPA Blogs, with the most recently-updated blogs appearing at the top of the list. This provides an incentive of sorts for bloggers to frequently update their sites: the most recently-updated sites bubble to the top of the list, while the sites that haven't updated lately sink to the bottom.

We discovered some time ago that there's a limit on how many blogs could be on one of these lists. After that limit is exceeded, adding a new blog would cause another blog to drop to the bottom of the list with no link to a current post. We were never quite clear on what this limit was - it may be somewhere around 120 blogs.

At first we dealt with this by arbitrarily assigning new blogs to a second list. But this meant that the most recently updated blogs on the second list would appear below the oldest blogs on the first list. It wasn't fair to the new blogs, which would never have the exposure of any blogs on list 1.

So we came up with a new approach: list 1 would contain all of the blogs that had updated within a certain time frame. List 2 would contain blogs that had not updated within that limit. Some trial and error determined that two months was a good cutoff. Active blogs had generally updated within two months. Blogs that had not updated in the past two months were likely not being updated anytime soon. Some more trial and error led us to create a third list of blogs that hadn't been updated in over a year. Blogs that haven't been updated in two months sometimes come back, but blogs that haven't been updated in a year rarely come back.

This has turned out to be a pretty good system. Every month or so I need to move a few blogs from List 1 to List 2, and a few from List 2 back to List 1. Every few months I need to move a few blogs from List 2 to List 3, and very, very rarely I need to move a blog from List 3 back to List 1.

I haven't done this in a few months. Since October, maybe.

Today I had to move thirty-two blogs from List 1 to List 2.

That wasn't the end of it. I also had to move about seven blogs from List 2 - and one from List 3! - back to List 1. So the net effect is that List 1 has moved about twenty-four slots away from being completely full. We have lots of blogs still to be added, mostly from the NEPA BlogCon that co-administrator Michelle and the rest of the Fearsome Foursome ran so effectively back in September.  While every blog starts off on List 1, many of these blogs haven't been updated in two months or more, so they will be moved to List 2 at the earliest opportunity.

Meanwhile, we're faced with the issue of presenting a new "Blog of the Week" on WBRE's PA Live! every Tuesday. We've been doing this almost every week for the past sixteen months. With over sixty blogs showcased so far, we've already picked most of the low-hanging fruit. Some of the remaining blogs will not be showcased due to content - featuring nudity or obscenity on your front page is a pretty sure way to not have your blog shown on TV. We probably won't showcase others that are almost certain to offend the PA Live! viewing audience, or blogs that haven't been updated in a long time, or simply don't have much general appeal. At some point I worry that we will be presenting fashion blogs, week after week. (At least those that don't have any nudity on the front page!)

Blogging isn't dead, as far as I can tell, though a lot of the bloggers I met online back in 2004 when I first got started have dropped out of blogging in the past few years. I truly intend to start paying more attention to Another Monkey, but I will continue to put some effort into NEPA Blogs as well.