Americans Are Killed or Injured by Gas Pipeline Explosions And Other Incidents With Alarming Regularity
Since 2010, the United States has suffered more than 1,700 significant gas incidents along gas distribution and transmission systems – roughly one every three days – resulting in more than 120 fatalities, 670 serious injuries, and more than $4 billion in property damage, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration.
“Significant” incidents, as defined by PHMSA, result in “fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalizations” or cause “$50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars.”
Official Data Excludes Fatal Accidents and Near-Misses Behind the Meter
Accidents that occur behind the gas meter (commonly described as occurring on "customer-owned" equipment) are not typically reported to PHMSA.
Details surrounding these events therefore are not included in PHMSA’s serious and significant incident data sets, nor are they comprehensively recorded by any other federal agency or institution. These exclusions obscure the actual frequency, danger, and human toll of gas incidents.
Accidents are Unavoidable if Leaks are Unavoidable
The occurrence of accidents is unsurprising given the sheer prevalence of leaks in the gas delivery system.
According to PHMSA annual report data, gas utilities around the nation repaired 516,482 leaks in 2021 (from both gas city mains and service pipelines), of which 198,332 were considered hazardous. Another 130,677 leaks were known but not yet repaired. The PHMSA data also shows that the rate of hazardous leaks requiring immediate repair has increased since 2010.
Gas Production And Use Causes Unhealthy Air
Besides producing methane emissions that cause climate change, gas contributes to air pollution that can cause premature death.
Burning gas produces nitrogen oxides (NOx), while the routine venting and flaring of gas at drilling sites releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene. NOx and VOCs chemically react with one another to create ground-level ozone pollution, which aggravates lung diseases such as asthma. In addition, gas production, especially at well sites that employ fracking, releases considerable toxic air pollution including potent carcinogens, diesel exhaust, fine particles, and nitrogen oxides, which can damage respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.
Our Reliance on Gas Disproportionately Threatens Black Americans
A compendium of public health research shows that gas production is an environmental injustice, as pregnant women, children, Indigenous people, communities of color, and low-income communities are disproportionately harmed by fracking.
Across the U.S., Black and low-income people have long faced higher exposure to pollution from gas and other fossil-fueled power plants – and while generation has shifted from coal to gas in the past decade, gas-fired power plants were built in more densely populated areas and in greater proximity to minority neighborhoods. People of color are also disproportionately exposed to gas leaks from the distribution system and must endure comparatively slower repairs.
Gas Stoves Often Produce Levels of Indoor Air Pollution That Would Be Illegal Outdoors
A growing body of scientific evidence has shown gas stoves produce dangerous levels of air pollutants – such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide – inside the home. Researchers from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health found nitrogen dioxide generated by one hour of gas stove and oven use in California typically reached levels above state and national outdoor acute air-quality standards, and Stanford researchers found that poorly ventilated kitchens can surpass the EPA’s guidelines for 1-hour exposure to nitrogen dioxide (outdoors, since there are no indoor standards) within a few minutes of stove usage. Another recent study found that gas delivered in the Boston metropolitan area also contained trace amounts of 21 other hazardous air pollutants like benzene.
Low-income populations and people of color are disproportionately at risk, and this indoor air pollution threatens the health of children in particular. Gas stoves have been found to increase and aggravate childhood asthma, and increase the odds of pneumonia and cough among children under five. And more than 90% of rental homes in America lack mechanical ventilation systems that can reduce indoor air pollution levels. For all of these reasons, public safety advocates are now calling on federal product safety regulators to protect consumers from the risks of gas stove pollution.
Fracking Depletes Water Supplies in Areas With Little Water to Spare
During hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a high-pressure mix of water, sand, and chemicals are injected deep underground to crack shale and other impermeable rock formations to release trapped oil and gas.
Millions of gallons of freshwater are typically used for a single fracking well and then disposed of deep underground, never to be used again, because fracking contaminates the water with chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. This massive water consumption is particularly concerning in arid locations such as the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.
Gas Extraction Produces Radioactive Toxic Waste that Endangers Workers and Communities
Oil and gas extraction produces a trillion tons of wastewater every year. This wastewater, or brine, contains naturally-occurring radioactive elements such as radium, which is known to cause bone cancer.
A January 2020 exposé in Rolling Stone found “oil-and-gas waste spilled, spread, and dumped across America, posing under-studied risks to the environment, the public, and especially the industry’s own employees.” Both conventional drilling and fracking bring radioactive wastewater to the surface, but a major increase in fracking over the last decade has taken place in America’s most radioactive formation, the Marcellus shale, which extends through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Fracking Spills and Leaks Have Contaminated Water Supplies
A 2015 EPA analysis revealed fracking fluids or additives had spilled into water bodies, such as creeks, streams, and ponds, across states where fracking occurs.
A 2014 study published by the National Academy of Sciences found faulty fracking wells had contaminated groundwater in Pennsylvania and Texas. And fracking has contaminated groundwater in central Wyoming’s Wind River Basin, according to a 2016 study by a former EPA scientist who began investigating the matter after residents complained of foul-tasting and smelling drinking water.
Earthquakes Are Spiking Near Fracking Sites
The surge in underground wastewater disposal generated by fracking has caused a dramatic increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and other states, according to scientists.
Oklahoma has experienced a 900-fold increase in earthquakes since 2008, and Oklahoma’s state seismologist blames oil and gas activity for causing four of the five biggest earthquakes in the state’s history.