A former X-ray technician pleaded guilty this week in federal court in Pittsburgh to falsifying documents certifying welds on the Mariner East natural gas pipeline project in Pennsylvania.
Joshua Springer, 42, pleaded guilty to one count of falsification. He faces sentencing Aug. 24 and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and receive a fine of up to $250,000.
Springer was employed by a company working on the Energy Transfer project building the pipeline that carries liquefied natural gas products from Ohio and across Pennsylvania when he committed the crime between May 2017 and June 2018. He no longer works on the project.
The criminal information, filed against him in March, said he was assigned to conduct “nondestructive testing” of welds using X-rays on two 20-mile sections of the pipeline in Western Pennsylvania. He falsified the X-ray results 77 times by intentionally substituting X-ray exposures from different welds because the original X-ray exposure was unacceptable and contained a defect on the film. Rather than re-shoot the weld and correctly interpret the radiograph, he substituted an exposure from a different weld that he knew would be acceptable.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) has oversight over interstate pipeline projects and sets minimum safety standards that must be met. One of those regulations is that pipeline welds must be tested to confirm their integrity. A faulty weld could lead to a leak or catastrophic explosion.
Energy Transfer discovered the issue through a third-party audit before the pipeline was put into service and reported it to regulators. Springer was fired and the company re-examined welds on all parts of the pipeline where Springer had worked.
The Mariner East pipeline has been slowed by a year-long shutdown following a September 2018 explosion and fire along Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline in Beaver County, which had just gone into service. The state Department of Environmental Protection imposed a $30.6 million fine against Energy Transfer and allowed construction to restart. The Mariner East project has also been fined for other environmental violations.