An unrelated gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, 2010.
“It Felt Like An Airplane Hit My House”
The colossal explosion happened around 5 a.m. Local resident Karen Kdula told TV station WTAE, "We were in bed, and it sounded like there was an 18-wheeler truck right outside our bedroom window, and the earth shook. Jumped out of bed, looked out and saw flames all the way into the sky, taller than the 150-foot pine trees that happened to be there in the neighborhood, and heard the hissing." Another resident told CBS Pittsburgh that it felt like an airplane had hit her house.
The people of Center Township, Pennsylvania, found out the hard way that energy companies’ reassuring words about safety and testing ultimately don’t mean much. Just a week after being put into service, a section of the Revolution Pipeline exploded:
The Revolution line feeds two major fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the region Pennsylvania: the Mariner East 2 project, which delivers liquids used in plastics manufacturing, and the Rover pipeline, which carries fracked gas across Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
In an extreme stroke of good luck, there were no human deaths or injuries in this explosion, but that is mostly because it happened in a more sparsely populated area. Had it happened someplace where more people lived, it could have had a very different outcome.
Is Safety An Over-Promise Or An Outright Lie?
People who’ve had pipeline projects take over their towns have shared the energy companies’ playbook — first the company makes contact with residents who will be in proximity and gives a nice-sounding spiel that eases the their minds. It goes something like, “This project will be short term and limited in scope. Pipelines are the safest method to transport natural gas/petroleum.” They offer doublespeak like this paragraph in a brochure distributed to Westtown, Pennsylvania.
If It Can Happen After 7 Days, It Can Happen At Any Time
The weeks leading up to a pipeline becoming operational are chock full of diagnostic activity. There are special teams of consulting engineers who often assist in the start-up. It is when one of the most thorough checks of all points in the operation happens. The goal is to identify potential faults and address them before giving the green light for the pipeline to start.
If a pipeline can explode in its first week of operation, when it is meant to be operating at its most ideal baseline, then all bets are off. It indicates that pipelines can explode at any point, no matter how well maintained.
The Difference Between What An Energy Company Says And What Reality Reflects
After the blast, Energy Transfer Partners offered a statement that deserves some scrutiny. Here are some of the things they said, along with a real-world reality check:
“By around 7 am, the fire on the pipeline had extinguished itself.” Fires don’t extinguish themselves. Fires run out of fuel, or become deprived of oxygen by water or other means. Heavy rains in the area both before and during the explosion helped contain and extinguish the fire (and valves to other sections of the pipeline were shut off) or it would have likely been much worse — luckily, conditions were too wet for the fire to spread quickly. But by wording it in this way, the energy company conveys a sense of safety, as if there is nothing for the public to do, and as if these things just work themselves out.
“All evacuees from the explosion in Center Township were allowed to go back to their residences.” Not the evacuees whose homes were unsalvageable after the wreckage.
“An initial site assessment reveals evidence of a landslide in the vicinity of the pipeline.” This is an artful attempt to dodge responsibility for the explosion. “Evidence of a landslide” could mean a number of things, and one piece of evidence alone does not equate to a credible claim of a landslide. They stop just short of saying “there was a landslide,” but they introduce the possibility as an explanation that the public can both live with and feel they could have done nothing about. But let’s imagine for a moment if there really had been a landslide. If a carefully inspected new pipeline can unexpectedly explode because of a spontaneous natural disaster — prompted by something as normal as rain — that tells us the truth about how much we can trust pipelines. We can’t trust them at all.
This Is A Catastrophe That Should Shake People Awake
This explosion happened in western Pennsylvania. Where will the next one happen? It could happen along any stretch of any of the 2.4 million miles of pipeline in the United States.
Reminder: Pennsylvania -- with the acquiescence of Gov. Wolf -- is currently building one of these killer pipelines through highly populated suburbs southwest of Philadelphia https://t.co/xql3N2q8Kq
— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) September 10, 2018
We know without a doubt that pipelines explode. It’s merely a matter of time and circumstance.
We have to say no to new fossil fuel infrastructure when it is proposed in our states and towns, including processing plants and pipelines. We also need to tell our members of Congress that we demand 100% renewables by 2035, via the OFF Fossil Fuels Act, so that pipelines become a thing of the past. Stand with us now to create the future we deserve.