Citing three past natural gas explosions in northern Macomb County, state Attorney General Dana Nessel has called for public safety measures before another gas plant is constructed within the same residential area.
Nessel this week urged federal authorities to require additional safety precautions before approving construction of a compressor station in Ray Township proposed by Bluewater Gas Storage.
That site is located within a couple miles of other gas facilities that have shook houses and shook residents emotionally after fires and explosions, including one that sprayed shrapnel from Bluewater buildings and pipelines into the surrounding neighborhood.
In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Nessel noted residents’ pleas for a tall berm, topped by large pine trees, to surround the Bluewater plant with a protective border.
‘Safety must be top priority’
“When a compressor station is located next to a neighborhood, public safety must be a top priority,” Nessel said in her Monday letter. “It is critical Bluewater take every precaution possible to protect nearby residents from potential danger. Right now, the company has failed to do that.”
The site is located in a semi-rural area of Ray Township, on Omo Road near 32 Mile Road, a short distance from the Consumers Energy compressor station that caught fire in January and rattled homeowners statewide.
The first of three incidents occurred in 2011 at a Bluewater site in nearby Columbus Township, just across the county line, in St. Clair County. The explosion reportedly was blamed on malfunctioning, corroded equipment at the gas storage facility. The plant manager suffered minor burns and the subsequent repairs cost $3.1 million, according to federal authorities.
The second was a much scarier ordeal. In 2014, a Bluewater booster station in Ray Township on 29 Mile Road west of Omo Road exploded, due to apparent mechanical failure. The blast destroyed buildings and piping (see photo above), sending metal shrapnel flying through the air, according to those who witnessed the incident. Debris was scattered across farmers’ fields and residents said a horse was killed.
Company told residents to keep quiet
Bluewater responded by paying for damages to adjacent properties in exchange for nearby residents signing non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from talking about the incident.
The third event was one that distressed residents across the state. When a large fire erupted on a particularly frigid January day at Consumers Energy’s compressor station, located on Omo Road just north of 32 Mile Road, it triggered a statewide alert asking people to lower their thermostats to 65 degrees.
Because the plant delivers a huge amount of gas to heat Michigan homes — nearly two-thirds of Consumer’s volume — state officials worried a domino effect could cause a widespread gas shortage while the facility was shut down.
Bluewater company officials, based in St. Clair County, have repeatedly declined to comment on their proposed plant. The company has previously assured residents that the plant planned for construction in 2020, a $40 million project, will be safe and will not present risks to the area.
Responding to public opposition, on Wednesday FERC officials ventured to Michigan and toured the site, located on the Ray-Lenox township border, with concerned residents and later held a town hall meeting in Ray Township.
Last month, concerned homeowners pleaded with the Michigan Public Services Commission (MPSC) to advocate for their safety concerns. The neighbors have hired as their expert consultant Valerie Brader, who served under former governor Rick Snyder as director of the state Agency for Energy. Brader has already complained to the feds about Bluewater’s track record of “spectacular failures” at their sites in and near Ray Township over the past decade.
FERC, which has the final say on approving the Bluewater plant – and possibly altering the design for environmental or safety reasons – has received a steady stream of correspondence from elected officials in Michigan over the past several weeks, ranging from Sen. Debbie Stabenow to local township supervisors.
Gas facility will benefit Wisconsin, not Michigan
The natural gas pipeline to be served by the proposed Bluewater facility will benefit their parent company, Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Company, and will not provide home heating to any Michigan households.
As Michigan’s chief consumer advocate, Nessel can intervene in any utility case brought before the MPSC or FERC. But, because the project would supply gas across state lines, to the Milwaukee area, only the feds can demand changes to Bluewater’s plans.
In its May 23 construction application to FERC, Bluewater stated it is committed to working cooperatively with local homeowners and farmers to address safety concerns and mitigate adverse impacts.
“The company’s promises and its actions seem to be at odds,” Nessel said. “The construction of this berm is exactly the type of measure Bluewater promised it would consider when it filed its application. I’m counting on the (FERC) commission to hold Bluewater to its commitment and make certain that the safety of our residents is the company’s top priority, not its bottom line.”