The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it is still trying to figure out how to regulate shipping activities being conducted at a contaminated industrial park located in Billerica, Massachusetts.
The Lowell Sun, a local newspaper, spoke with municipal and federal officials about the site, which is being used as a transshipment point for liquefied petroleum gas.
Tom Ferraro, deputy chief of the Billerica Fire Department, told The Sun that he discovered the shipping operation entirely by accident when he happened to notice a truck pulling into the property, which is a former manufacturing and railway hub. Decades of industrial use by the now-defunct Boston and Maine Railroad left the area heavily contaminated.
However, Ferraro said that one of his central concerns is the fact that the closest hydrant is nearly 2,000 feet away from the area where highly flammable liquefied petroleum gas is being transferred from rail cars to tanker trucks.
“If something did happen we’re concerned about the water supply,” Ferraro said.
The deputy fire chief added that he was simply unsure whether or not his department had any authority in the matter. The operation raises unique questions for regulators because it is taking place on one of the EPA’s “Superfund” sites.
Mary Jane O’Donnell, the acting manager of the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act division, told the news source that the shipping had been going on for at least two weeks, as of January 24. She added that the agency is currently evaluating whether certain sections of the Clean Air Act apply to the petroleum transfer activities taking place in Billerica.
The EPA’s Superfund program
Following a raft of discoveries of toxic waste dumps, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act was passed in 1980. The law gives EPA officials authority over highly contaminated areas.
Specifically, the agency is empowered to compel responsible parties to either clean up environmental damage or compensate the government for doing the dirty work.
EPA personnel conduct assessments on a site-by-site basis, as each area presents a unique range of contaminants and health risks. The agency maintains a “National Priorities List,” which is meant to guide the establishment and execution of cleanup plans.
Oil and gas producers doubtlessly need to exercise caution in order to keep their fields off of that list. Ensuring that employees are properly trained in dealing with hazardous materials and situations is one part of a sound strategy for maintaining a safe oilfield.
Making use of high-quality oil production equipment is another key aspect of ensuring that operations are safe and efficient. Implementing an oil jet pump or other artificial lift solutions can be particularly useful in ensuring that energy production runs at maximum capacity while maintaining safety.
Operations that involve hydraulic fracturing face additional obstacles, such as managing the frac flowback process.
Failure to replace aging or low-quality equipment could lead to costly and dangerous accidents.
No simple solution in sight at the Billerica Superfund site
Transferring liquefied petroleum gas between vehicles at a contaminated industrial area certainly sounds hazardous. However, it remains unclear to government authorities whether or not the activity is legally questionable.
On January 18, officials representing the EPA, Billerica Fire Department and Federal Railroad Administration met to conduct a joint inspection at the Superfund site.
O’Donnell told The Sun that inspections at the site will be “ongoing,” although she conceded that it was still unclear exactly how the petroleum shipping operation would be regulated, leaving some doubt about who will be inspecting the site in the future.