Picture courtesy of centerpointengergy.
In a really complete review of the problem, “Corroding Pipelines”, presented by our system of aging and deteriorating gas pipelines, Remapping Debate has done us a service. Although it’s scary to see the U.S. undermined by seriously dangerous infrastructure dating back to previous decades, it’s useful to know at least where the threat is located.
Worth a check, the articles include a map of pipelines running across the U.S.
The existence of a danger was recently illustrated all too dramatically in a California neighborhood that erupted without warning. We should all note, the neighborhood was unaware of the danger they faced, and lives were lost.
A natural gas pipeline exploded Sept. 9 in the San Francisco Peninsula suburb of San Bruno, shooting a wall of fire hundreds of feet into the sky for more than 90 minutes as Pacific Gas & Electric utility crews had to fight rush hour traffic to reach manual shut-off valves, one of them more than 30 miles from the blast. The explosion — which left a crater 40 feet deep — killed eight people, injured 60 more, and severely damaged or destroyed 120 homes.
Many survivors in the surrounding area told reporters they had no idea that a 30-inch, high-pressure pipeline laid in 1956 ran through their neighborhood. Neither did city officials, says Mayor Jim Ruane, even though federal safety rules require that pipeline operators periodically alert residents to the presence of pipelines and train first responders.
Nationwide, pipeline blasts and fires kill a person every three weeks and burn or injure someone more than once a week.
Paul Blackburn runs Plains Justice, a public interest law firm in Vermillion, South Dakota, a town on the border with Nebraska. Blackburn, who previously worked as an energy regulatory lawyer in Washington, is engaged in several public interest actions aimed at dealing with damage from pipeline ruptures and to make a proposed new pipeline from Canada into the United States safer.
He obtained some pipeline company safety planning reports under the Freedom of Information Act. Blackburn said he expected to read detailed emergency response and evacuation plans, including emergency contact numbers and an assessment of firefighting resources. In fact, “I found there was almost nothing in the file, it was pathetic,” Blackburn said, adding that the files he reviewed show that “the government basically rubber stamps industry documents” with little to no evidence it questioned, much less challenged, anything the companies proposed.
The lack of safety planning resonates with those of us who have gas heat and other appliances. We’ve long known that the smell of gas should not be ignored. Just how dangerous it can be, though, was a shock in the report I’ve cited.
Astonishingly, by simple doing repairs on corroding pipelines, a company can depend on that pipeline to be dated as if it had originated on the date of repairs. This is hardly a system we can trust our lives to.
The program represented by the periodic publication of Remapping Debate is one that seeks to draw attention to the very large problem of trimming public needs for safety to fit an industry’s sheerly economic considerations. When the public is not protected, but is told the opposite, information becomes vital, crucial to keep disasters from happening to an unwarned and unsuspecting public.