Pipeline Accidents Happen! More to Come! How Big?

by S. Tom Bond on March 24, 2015

Sissonville, WV, 20" pipeline explodes 12-11-12

More on Natural Gas Pipelines in Central West Virginia

Update by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV,  March 24, 2015

A small number of responses to the article by Mr. Campbell and I prompt this response. What I heard was many advances are inherently dangerous and we accept the dangers because the advances help so much.

First of all, the magnitude of the pipeline effort world wide is humongous. There are presently over 109,000 miles of large diameter pipelines planned, one third of which is in North America, and one third (of all of it world wide) is under construction. 42 inch pipe is quite large, but a lot of it is planned. It is said to cost about $1.5 million per mile.

The Sissonville explosion involved a 20 inch pipeline. It is easy high school math to understand the amount of gas contained in a 42 inch pipeline per foot is over fourth times as much. I can find no statement of what the pressure was in the Sissonville explosion, but it seems quite likely that it was less than 100 times atmospheric pressure maximum for the 42 inch.

More comparable would be the San Bruno pipeline explosion which occurred in 2010. It merits a Wikipedia article of its own. Judging from the picture, the pressure was not anywhere near the 100 atmospheres maximum on the planned pipelines in West Virginia and elsewhere.

The only place 42 inch lines are presently in use is overseas. One runs from Norway to England and there are some in the Middle East and Russia. One on an island off Qatar is so old it is being replaced.

Explosions of pipelines is not rare. There is a list of them in Wikipedia. Part of the new pipelines we know about is that they are designed to export an American natural resource, which considering our use and likely continued demand, will be needed in the future. Much of the rest will be used for generating electricity. Gas lacks the pollutants of coal, but is far from free of carbon dioxide, as are solar and wind. Leaked methane (natural gas) is a serious global warming gas itself.

Like many other profit making entities, an important part of the path chosen by extreme energy extraction is to lay off real expenses due to the enterprise onto others. These include but are not limited to destruction of land, water and the health and safety of people living in the area where it is conducted and to it’s labor force. You will never find an item in the balance sheet for these!

Summary of Significant Pipeline Incidents in WV 2003 to 2014:

According to data from the federal Pipeline Safety & Hazardous Materials Administration, 19 significant incidents have occurred in West Virginia between 2003 and 2014. The agency classifies incidents as “significant” when any of the following conditions are met: 1) Fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization. 2) $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars. 3) Highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels or more or other liquid releases of 50 barrels or more. 4) Liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion.

Between 2003 and 2014, significant pipeline incidents in WV have resulted in:

  • 5 fatalities
  • 9 injuries
  • $13,728,650 in property damages
  • 11,412 barrels of spilled hazardous liquids


Large ‘Rover’ Gas Pipeline Advances to FERC

Note:  The proposed Rover 42 inch natural gas pipeline would extend from Doddridge, Tyler and Wetzel counties in West Virginia, thru Ohio and Michigan to Canada.  The initial cost is estimated at $4.22 billion for 711 miles. The formal filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was on February 23rd.  Opposition exists all along the route, including in Stark County in Ohio.

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Skylark View 3-2-15 March 24, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Environmentalists Stage ‘Laugh-In’ at Senator Whitehouse Talk

Protesters interrupted a recent talk at Yale University by Sen. Whitehouse to call the Rhode Island Democrat a ‘climate clown.’ They don’t agree with his take on natural-gas expansion in southern New England. (Capitalism vs. the Climate)

By Tim Faulkner, ecoRI News, March 2, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Environmentalists critical of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s stance on natural-gas pipeline projects planned for southern New England interrupted his Feb. 28 speech at Yale Law School.

The Rhode Island Democrat, who is considered one of the top environmentalists in Congress, was shouted down for favoring natural-gas expansion and, in particular, a project to dramatically expand the capacity of a natural-gas pipeline that runs through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The protestors called the peaceful action a “laugh-in,” which involved loud and exaggerated laughing before standing and shouting, “It’s a joke that Senator Whitehouse is an environmentalist. He needs to stop supporting Spectra’s fracked gas pipeline expansion. He’s not a climate champion. He’s a climate clown.”

Two of the 10 activists in the conference hall then hoisted a banner in front of Whitehouse that read: “Fracked Gas Kills.” There were no arrests in the incident. 

The group, Capitalism vs. the Climate, organized the event and claims Whitehouse supports the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project. The owner of the pipeline, Houston-based Spectra Energy, plans to add 40 miles of new pipeline and expand five compressor stations, including a compressor station in Burrillville, R.I.

The increased pressure on the 60-year-old pipeline has environmentalists and residents along the 1,127-mile transmission line concerned about fires, explosions and an increase in harmful emissions.

According to Spectra Energy, all of the gas in the pipeline travels from the natural-gas fields that employ the controversial method of extraction called hydraulic fracturing, but better known as fracking. Fracking is linked to water and air pollution. The drilling, transportation and burning associated with this process are suspected of releasing methane into the atmosphere, accelerating global climate change. Due to the risks, more than 20 groups in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are opposing the AIM project and have held regular demonstrations.

Whitehouse didn’t respond to an ecoRI News inquiry about the protest. He has, however, walked a fine line on the natural-gas debate. During his weekly “Time to Wake Up” speeches, Whitehouse has called for cutting fossil-fuel emissions in order to curtail the impacts of climate change. He also has introduced a bill to curb greenhouse gases through a tax on carbon emissions.

At the same time, he supports domestic natural-gas extraction as an alternative to higher-polluting coal, especially if methane and leaks can be contained. Whitehouse also has called natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a time when renewables provide a greater portion of energy needs. And like other top political leaders in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Whitehouse wants to expand natural gas in order to reduce price fluctuations and ease winter spikes in demand.

Whitehouse hasn’t wholeheartedly endorsed the AIM project, however, and helped schedule a public hearing for the project in Burrillville. But he hasn’t responded to reports that the energy companies intend to use the New England pipelines for export to Canada and overseas.

“Senator Whitehouse needs to either stop Spectra’s pipeline expansion or stop pretending he’s a climate champion,” says Dan Fischer of Capitalism vs. the Climate.


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