US Suffers Incident on Aging Natural Gas Pipeline Network Every 40 Hours - Report
© Mansfield Fire Department Tweet via Mansfield Fire Dept (@MansfieldFireTX): ****Major Incident**** At around 1:00 am on March 23, a vehicle ran into natural gas pipeline. There is a major fire. Hwy 287 is shutdown in all directions. Residents within a one mile radius are being evacuated. Shelter is available at 1261 S. Main St, Annette Perry Elementary
The US has postured itself against cyberattacks as the major danger posed to its gas pipelines, but the ancient pipe network doesn’t need any help breaking and causing havoc on a regular basis. Some pipes date to the late 19th century, and all laid before 1970 are exempt from newer safety standards.
A new study by the US Public Interest Research Groups (US PIRG) Educational Fund nonprofit group has put a spotlight on the safety hazards posed by the US’ vast natural gas pipeline network.
According to the study, almost 2,600 pipeline incidents were reported to federal authorities between 2010 and the end of 2021, amounting to one event about every 40 hours. Of the cases, 328 incidents resulted in an explosion and 850 caused fires, killing a total of 122 people and injuring 603.
These leaks, the report notes, “resulted in the release of 26.6 billion cubic feet of methane gas” into the atmosphere, a potent environmental toxin and a major driver of climate change.
“The amount of gas leaking to the environment is far greater than captured in federal leak reporting or emissions estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” the study notes. “A 2020 study, for example, estimated that there are more than a half million leaks in local gas distribution systems in the US, and that leakage from these systems was five times greater than the amount estimated by the EPA.”
For example, in early 2021, Colonial Pipeline revealed that the leak in North Carolina’s Oehler Nature Preserve the previous August had been almost 20 times larger than initially reported, at 1.2 million gallons, making it the largest such spill in the US in the 21st century.
According to North Carolina Policy Watch, that single 5,500-mile pipeline stretching from Texas to New York has suffered 272 spills between 2000 and early 2021, 32 of which happened in the Tar Heel State.
The US has more than 300,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines, nearly half of which were built between 1950 and 1970, and over 2.1 million miles of distribution pipelines carrying gas into people's homes and businesses for heating and cooking.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is tasked with inspecting and enforcing safety regulations on the nation’s pipeline network, but the underfunded and understaffed agency is dominated by the gas companies it ostensibly regulates, who hold a major influence over those regulations and are largely expected to inspect themselves.
"This isn't like the fox guarding the hen house," Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a public charity that promotes fuel transportation safety, told ProPublica in 2012. "It's like the fox designing the hen house."
Some of those pipes are truly ancient, dating to the late 19th century, and are made of cast iron. One pipe in Harlem, New York, that leveled most of a city block when it exploded in 2014 had been installed in 1887, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Some 67 million Americans get their gas from cast iron pipes.
“Leaks, fires and explosions are reminders that transporting methane gas is dangerous business,” Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the US PIRG report, said in a statement. “Fully protecting the public requires us to reduce our dependence on gas.”