Is There Are Drug/Alcohol Problem At Cove Point Gas Terminal?

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Above Photo: A tanker and dump truck enter the Dominion Cove Point facility in January 2016./Photo by Jeff Dixon

Local Police Set Up Alcohol, Drug Checkpoint for Cove Point LNG Construction Workers

Local police conducted a sobriety checkpoint in southern Calvert County, Md., to ensure construction workers at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project, owned by Dominion Resources Inc., were not drunk or using drugs as they headed to work. The early morning checkpoint occurred on the same day that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) employees traveled to Calvert County for a routine inspection of the Cove Point construction project.

The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office set up the checkpoint on Sept. 23 on a county-owned road that construction workers drive on as they head to a privately owned parking and project staging area, named Offsite Area A. Each day, after parking their vehicles, the workers are then transported in buses to the Cove Point construction site in Lusby, Md.

That morning, sheriff’s deputies randomly stopped vehicles on the public road to screen the occupants for alcohol and drugs. No workers were arrested as part of the Sept. 23 checkpoint, said Captain Steven Jones with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. Two cars were searched for drugs, but no drugs were found, he said. The sheriff’s office also stopped cars on Dominion property due to violations that occurred on county roads unrelated to the sobriety checkpoint. After the completion of the checkpoint, Jones said the sheriff’s office called Dominion to commend the employees for their cooperation and professionalism.

Dominion requires its workplaces and facilities to remain drug and alcohol-free, including construction projects like the Cove Point liquefaction and export facilities, according to Dominion Cove Point spokesman Karl Neddenien. “All employees and others working at Dominion Cove Point are subject to random screenings when they arrive at the work site, while they are on our property and when they leave the work site,” he said.

The Sept. 23 sobriety checkpoint “was a cooperative effort of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, Dominion Cove Point, and IHI-Kiewit to ensure compliance with this requirement,” Neddenien said in an email. In 2013, Dominion awarded Kiewit, a leading global LNG engineering firm, and joint venture partner IHI an engineering and construction contract for the Cove Point LNG export project.

In 2007, Calvert County reached a “security services agreement” with Dominion under which the sheriff’s office provides protection to the Cove Point facility. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office used the $1.5 million paid by Dominion in fiscal year 2016 to fully fund eleven sheriff deputy positions that are part of a special operations team assigned to protect the Cove Point terminal.

Donny Williams, a resident of Calvert County and an organizer with the anti-LNG export terminal group We Are Cove Point, expressed alarm that anybody would feel the need to set up a sobriety checkpoint to specifically target workers coming to build the export terminal in his neighborhood. “It’s horrifying to think that there is enough concern of workers being drunk or on drugs on the job to lead Dominion and the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office to set up a sobriety checkpoint not for drivers going up and down Rt. 4, but specifically for workers on this site,” Williams said.

Construction on the Cove Point LNG export facility began in October 2014. The new facilities will be in the 131-acre footprint of the existing LNG terminal site. The liquefaction and export terminal project remains on schedule for a late-2017 completion date, according to Dominion.

At least one construction worker has been seriously injured during the construction of the export facilities at Cove Point. In March 2015, a Kiewit employee was reportedly transported by helicopter to Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland after suffering injuries at the construction site. The employee was injured during unloading operations for two rebar cages for the liquefaction facility.

In October 2015, about 5,000 gallons of a 50% solution of automotive antifreeze reportedly spilled from a pressure relief valve on an industrial heating system at the LNG terminal. The antifreeze is used in a system that processes LNG into natural gas by heating it. Dominion reported no injuries from the incident and no antifreeze was released from the Cove Point LNG site.

Zero Tolerance Policy Common at Energy Facilities

Other energy companies also have strict anti-drug policies for their employees who work on site at plants or other major energy infrastructure facilities. As a condition to gain access to work at Southern Nuclear-operated sites, all employees must agree to submit to a “fitness-for-duty” program, which allows the company to conduct pre-access alcohol and drug testing, random testing, follow-up testing and for-cause testing, the company said in an email. All personnel also are prohibited from reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drug, the company said.

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., serves as the operator of three nuclear power plants and is the licensee of two new nuclear units currently under construction at the existing Plant Vogtle in Georgia. When completed, the two units, along with a pair of units under construction in South Carolina, will be the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in 30 years.

“Everyone found in violation of this policy,” a Southern Nuclear spokeswoman said, “will be disciplined, up to and including termination, and denied access to all of our nuclear energy facilities.” Construction on the two new Vogtle units began in March 2013. Since the start of construction, the spokeswoman said she is unaware of local police setting up alcohol and drug checkpoints near the Plant Vogtle construction site similar to the checkpoint in Calvert County.

Preventing drinking on the job can be a struggle for some companies, including construction firms. In 2012, hidden cameras discovered workers drinking on the largest construction job in Washington State, a project on which Kiewit was a joint-venture partner.

On Sept. 23, the same day as the sobriety checkpoint near the Cove Point facility, FERC staff members performed an inspection of the construction site. In its inspection report, filed on Oct. 13, FERC staff concluded that construction activities at the LNG terminal “comply with the designs and plans filed with and approved by FERC.” The staff did not find any instances of noncompliance nor were any problem areas identified, according to the report.

For example, FERC staff found that a temporary construction entrance on Cove Point Road (Route 497) was acceptable. The entrance provides access for construction workers, materials, equipment and vehicles. Dominion Cove Point routinely maintains the roadway with street sweepers to remove sediment and debris, FERC staff said. FERC’s next construction inspection of the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal facilities is tentatively scheduled for the week of Nov. 14.

The sheriff’s office will occasionally set up sobriety checkpoints throughout the county. The Sept. 23 checkpoint was the first time the sheriff’s office had screened drivers in the vicinity of the Dominion Cove Point staging area, Jones said.

“We’re scanning for drugs and alcohol, just like we would for a DWI checkpoint or a drug checkpoint,” Jones said. “We have a national drug problem. We have a drinking and driving problem. We used to do it on Friday nights. Now, we find when we do it in the mornings or on Monday nights, we find the same results.”

The sheriff’s office told Dominion that it was planning to set up the checkpoint on Sept. 23. “We let them know we were going to do it because it was going to affect their operations. We don’t need their permission to do it because it’s a county road. But we did let them know out of respect,” he said.

The sobriety checkpoint is one more reason why Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should order a full and transparent quantitative risk assessment for the Cove Point LNG export project, Williams contended. “We know it was unsafe as an import terminal. We have no idea how unsafe it would be as an export terminal, and the fact that workers are suspected of not being sober on the job certainly skyrockets our concerns about the safety of this facility,” he said.