The other day, I ran across a post on Twitter saying there were 130-odd pipeline explosions in the last year “caused death and mayhem”.
Living in a big oil state, I thought I’d have heard of that if pipelines were that dangerous. So I decided to research it. It’s what I do, right.
There was a pipeline explosion in Shelby County, Alabama, back in October. It killed one worker, injured five others and sent a massive plume of flames and smoke into the sky.
That’s scary, but pipeline explosions are pretty rare and it is rarer still that such accidents cause a fatality.
In the last 10 years, there have been 135 excavation accidents involve pipelines carrying hazardous liquids such as gasoline or crude oil, according to Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an industry watchdog group. That’s about one a month. In those same 10 years, there was one fatality from such an accident, a Georgia man killed when a liquid propane pipeline ruptured in 2010.
Before that, the last fatal accident was in November 2004 (six years earlier) when five workers were killed when a jet fuel pipeline in Walnut Creek, California, was hit during a construction project.
Liquid pipelines are typically made of thick steel … the earlier ones were made of cast iron. Due to cathodic protection to prevent corrosion (rusting), sparks are generally suppressed. Excavation accidents generally just cause spills rather than an explosion.
In Alaska, we have this 800-mile-long pipeline that literally anyone can walk up to. That’s going to give people some ideas. In the 1970s, some guys tried to blow it up with a truck filled with dynamite. They damaged the insulation and the vibration knocked the pipeline off-line, but no oil was spilled.
In 2001, a drunk managed to shoot a hole in the TransAlaska Pipeline with a hunting rifle. He got lucky and hit a weld and bathed a part of Alaska countryside with a lot of oil at high pressure. My husband worked on the clean-up because only electricians are allowed to touch the cathodic protection. Nothing caught fire. Nothing exploded, even with a hot bullet piercing the pipeline.
Most hazardous liquid pipeline fatalities are due to causes such as improper operation of the pipeline or equipment failure. Fatalities are far more common when a natural gas line is ruptured. There were 116 deaths involving natural gas pipelines in the last 10 years, 32 of which were caused by excavation accidents. Most of those excavation deaths involved the relatively small pipes carrying natural gas into homes and businesses, which are often made from polyethylene instead of metal.
The number of natural gas accidents isn’t that much higher, but a lot more people are killed and injured because gas explodes easily.
The discussion of the Dakota Access Pipeline has been blown way out of proportion. Pipeline transportation of crude oil is much safer than tank car or truck transportation. I understanding the environmental concerns, but there are already existing pipelines crossing the Missouri within that corridor. Why are these older pipelines not a concern, but this brandnew pipeline built with modern safety protocals is considered a disaster.
This protest isn’t about the pipeline’s safety. It’s about the environmentalists’ desire to control the rest of us by reducing us to poverty by taking away efficient energy sources.
To a large extent, the Standing Rock Indians are completely on the wrong side of this debate. The pipeline is a bit of infrastructure that is part of improving the economy of the area, creating jobs that Standing Rock Indians could take if they weren’t so busy being pawns in the environmentalist design.
Just ask yourself this. Which is a better paying job? Working as wait staff at a casino or working in the oil patch? We could perhaps argue about which commerical venture causes more harm to the human spirits involved in the enterprise.My tribe has a casino. I live in a state with a large oil patch. What do you think I might know about both topics?