Searsmont Gas Pumping Station Incident Concerns Residents

Residents in Searsmont were jolted awake Tuesday night by a noise that some folks there thought was a plane crash.

But it was actually coming from a natural gas compressor station in town.

The normally quiet neighborhood in Searsmont was literally shaken on New Years Eve when a pressure valve blew at the Searsmont pumping station where a natural gas line runs. Neighbors say the incident shot natural gas roughly 200 feet into the air.

“Initially I felt what I thought was a mild earthquake,” said Sue Totman. “The ground was shaking. within 10 seconds it sounded like jets were going over my house. I looked out and I could see this plume shooting a couple hundred feet into the sky.”

Jesse Gogan and his wife were awakened by the noise.

“I actually thought it was a low-flying plane ready to crash into my backyard,” Gogan said.

The Totman’s called the emergency number at Spectra Energy, the gas company in Texas that owns the facility. They say the person on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on.

“I asked if we were safe in our home and they said they didn’t know,” Totman said.

Some of the neighbors we talked to told us the smell of the gas was overwhelming.

“My wife was sick,” Gogan said. “Can I say she was sick from the smell? I don’t know. I know she was violently sick. She was in the bathroom vomiting.”

I spoke with Susan Waller, Vice President of Spectra Energy, who told me what happened was part of an emergency shutdown procedure in which they remotely triggered “the safe and controlled release of natural gas due to an equipment malfunction.”

“We are evaluating and determining the cause of the equipment malfunction at this time. The sound that the neighbors heard is a sound that’s compared to a jet engine or a freight train. The sound is the result of the release of pressure from the compressor station piping,” Waller said.

Waller said the company has reached out to neighbors to try to explain what occurred. But we were told by residents this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and they’re afraid of what the next incident could bring.

“I’m afraid we’re gonna get blown up at some point,” Totman said. “We were terrified for that full 40 minutes that we were gonna just disappear. I mean it was that terrifying.”