Americans Are Killed or Injured by Gas Pipeline Explosions And Other Incidents With Alarming Regularity
Over the last decade (2010-2019), the United States suffered 1,411 significant gas incidents along gas distribution and transmission systems – roughly one every three days – resulting in 109 fatalities, 606 serious injuries, and more than $3.5 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.” Click here for recent examples.
Official Data Excludes Fatal Accidents and Near-Misses Behind the Meter
Accidents that occur behind the gas meter [also commonly referred to as occurring on ‘customer-owned’ equipment] are not typically reported to PHMSA.
The same is true for the majority of gas gathering lines, which are also deemed non-jurisdictional 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 infrastructure.
Accidents are Unavoidable if Leaks are Unavoidable
The occurrence of accidents may be somewhat unsurprising given the sheer prevalence of leaks in the gas delivery system.
According to PHMSA annual report data, gas utilities around the nation repaired 548,077 leaks in 2019 (from both gas city mains and service pipelines), of which 215,234 were considered hazardous. Another 129,478 leaks were known but not yet repaired. The PHMSA data also shows that over the last fifteen years, the rate of hazardous leaks being repaired has actually increased.
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, depends on heavy trucks, construction equipment, and drill rigs that produce diesel exhaust and small particles in the air linked to heart and lung problems.
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.
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.
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.
Our Reliance on Gas Disproportionately Threatens Black Americans
Ethnic minorities and people of color, particularly Black Americans, disproportionately live near fracking sites, according to a study published in 2019.
These communities are more likely to experience adverse consequences from fracking, including contaminated drinking water, exposure to radioactive elements, and unhealthy air.