A large regional pipeline owned by Enbridge that carries natural gas from the Mexican border in Texas to New York City exploded in rural Kentucky early Thursday morning, killing one and injuring five others in what one resident described as a tornado of fire. CBS News reported that the explosion destroyed railroad tracks and several trailer homes causing tremendous damage in its vicinity — it was so big it could be seen by weather radar — and it took several hours to bring under control by local fire officials. Ironically, a pipeline safety bill cleared a major hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday — Democrats pushed for increased safety requirements after a similar explosion in Western Massachusetts killed a teenage boy last September.
Why This Matters: Natural gas is not as safe as the industry would want the public to believe – pipeline explosions are one of the major reasons why communities (even in red and purple states) fight their construction. There has been a pitched battle in neighboring states Virginia and North Carolina to block a pipeline that is being challenged in court. Enbridge is a Canadian company with a history of explosions and spills — according to the Sierra Club, Enbridge’s pipelines had more than 800 spills in the U.S. and Canada between 1999 and 2010, leaking 6.8 million gallons of oil. This record is deplorable and it begs the question why so many pipelines explode and what safety precautions are missing. Hopefully, the new legislation will tighten up the entire system – it needs it. Enbridge operates a network of pipelines across many regions of the United States and Canada.
Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota
- Enbridge is proposing to expand its Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota, which has experienced many spills, both chronic small spills and large catastrophes.
- Line 3 was the source of the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. on March 3, 1991 when 40,000 barrels (1,680,000 gallons) spilled in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
- According to Greenpeace, thirty Enbridge incidents were reported to have contaminated water resources, including 17 which contaminated groundwater.
- A 2010 spill of 20,000 barrels (840,000 gallons) of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan is Enbridge’s largest in recent years.
Markey Pipeline Bill Heading to the Senate floor
Senator Markey said in a statement that the bill provides many major pipeline safety upgrades, including to:
- Improve emergency response coordination with the public and first responders, ensuring information is shared and residents are not left in the dark
- Require the use of qualified employees, such as professional engineers, to approve gas engineering plans or significant changes to the system
- Promote best industry practices for holistic safety management
- Mandate on-site monitoring of gas system pressure by qualified employees during construction so that a dangerous situation can be stopped before it happens
- Require regulator stations – which are critical to preventing over-pressurizations – to be configured in such a way so that there are technological redundancies that can keep disasters from taking place
- Ensure there are written procedures for responding to over-pressurization and managing changes to the pipeline system, the cause of the Merrimack Valley disaster, including maintenance of accurate, traceable, and reliable maps and records of the pipeline system