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There’s Safety In Pipelines

There’s Safety In Pipelines

With the price of natural gas reaching record highs around the world, it’s time to take another look at speeding up pipeline construction in order to bring more natural gas from where it is produced to businesses and consumers.

U.S. natural gas prices topped $5 per million British thermal units (BTUs) in September, the highest since 2014, and Europe and Asia are seeing prices four times as high. Because America now exports natural gas, high prices abroad will affect U.S. prices.

This means that more, rather than fewer, pipelines should be approved. But in New York, the Constitution Pipeline, the Northern Access pipeline, and the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipelines have been postponed due to protests. Many other pipelines are being delayed.

About 20 major natural gas transmission pipelines are pending review at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is now for the first time including potential greenhouse gases and effects on environmental justice communities in its pipeline approval process.

Those who profess concern for the environment are trying to block construction of pipelines, a safe way of transporting natural gas. Natural gas is also transported by road and rail, and all methods of transportation have low accident rates.

When natural gas is in a pipeline, the pipeline stays still and the gas moves, away from people, with little risk of accident. New technology shows pipeline operators if there is a pinhole leak in a pipe, and sophisticated pressure gauges can signal if oil pressure is declining.

Data published by the Department of Transportation show that pipelines have low injury and fatality rates. These findings have substantial relevance for America’s energy future. The question of how to transport oil and gas safely and reliably is not a transitory one.

Petroleum production in the United States is about 11 million barrels a day. U.S. natural gas production is about 100 billion cubic feet per day, and is forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration to rise to 105 billion cubic feet per day next year.

This oil and gas will have to travel to where it is needed. Whether oil and gas are produced in Canada, Alaska, North Dakota, or the Gulf of Mexico, it will be used all over the country, especially since new environmental regulations are resulting in the closures of coal-fired power plants, increasing the demand for natural gas as a substitute.

The first large-diameter long-distance pipelines were constructed during the Second World War. Now America has 190,000 miles of onshore and offshore petroleum pipeline and 2.4 million miles of natural gas gathering and distribution pipelines that collect natural gas and send it to businesses and consumers.

Natural gas backs up wind power, switching on when the wind stops, as it has done this month in the U.K.’s North Sea. On Monday, due to lack of wind and the difficulty of backup sources, energy prices in the U.K. reached an average of $350 per megawatt hour, with peak prices more than three times as much. Due to these spikes, natural gas, transported through pipelines, is a crucial part of electricity generation. Low-income individuals can least afford the financial burden when electricity prices rise.

Pipelines are the primary mode of transportation for crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas. Transporting oil and natural gas through pipelines results in fewer fatalities, injuries, and environmental damage than road and rail.

Data on pipeline safety are available from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety. This Office keeps track of incidents, injuries, and fatalities.

The numbers vary from year to year, so it makes sense to take 10-year averages. Natural gas transmission lines had a low average injury rate for operator personnel and the general public, having an average of only five per year over the past ten years.

Just as natural gas transmission pipelines are connected with few injuries, they are also connected with few deaths. Between 2011 and 2020, there was an average of 2 death annually from natural gas pipeline incidents.

For the past 20 years the number of fatalities from all pipeline transportation is approximately 13 per year, which is lower than the average number of people killed by lightning—49 fatalities per year, according to the National Weather Service. An individual had more than three times the chance of getting killed by lightning as being killed in a pipeline incident.

America should continue to ramp up production of natural gas. We need additional pipelines to get natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Utica Shale in Ohio to the rest of the country. America’s ability to export gas will enable us to help our friends. Pipelines are safe, and safety matters.

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