Pipeline Problems – A Homeland Security Issue

Geez, this has been a bad week for natural gas pipelines and the folks who live near them. On Wednesday night a gas explosion and massive fire in Allentown, PA killed 5 people in their homes and injured at least a dozen others (VIDEO). 47 homes were damaged and 8 were destroyed. The cause is not yet determined but failure of an 83-year-old, cast-iron, 12″ diameter gas main is suspected.

And last night a powerful explosion and fireball erupted from a 36″ natural gas transmission line in eastern Ohio (wild amateur VIDEO above). No injuries have been reported in this incident, the latest in a string of pipeline failures since last year’s tragedy in San Bruno, California.

We’ve got a vast network of gas pipelines across the nation. Much of this infrastructure is getting pretty old, and is being encroached on by residential development, putting more people in harm’s way when things go south. Meanwhile we’ve got a boom in natural-gas drilling taking place, which means more pipeline construction and higher gas volumes and pressures being pushed through the existing system. It seems obvious that we can expect the pace of these incidents to increase, unless we change the way we manage, inspect, and maintain pipelines.

Want to know where the nearest pipelines are to your home, school or business? Check out this kinda clunky, but useful, interactive map of pipelines around the nation, published by the federal government’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. [Deb Goldberg at Earthjustice points out that this map only shows transmission lines, and does not include the networks of smaller gathering lines that collect gas from natural-gas wells and the distribution lines that take it directly into homes and businesses.]

Learn more from our friends at the Pipeline Safety Trust.