Pipeline Safety Trust Op-Ed
February 9, 2005
Out of sight, out of mind?
The Mid-Valley pipeline spill of 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kentucky River, and the pipeline explosion in November that injured nine in Ivel, should be a wake up call to the people of Kentucky. A review of the data from the federal Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) reveals that for liquid pipelines Kentucky has a troubling record. From 1999-2003 (the last year full data is available) liquid pipelines in Kentucky averaged over $2,700 per year of property damage per mile of pipeline, for a total of over $12,000,000. This is over five and half times the national average. During that same period these types of pipelines across the country leaked an average 147 gallons per mile of pipeline, but in Kentucky they leaked an average of 530 gallons per mile. During that same five-year period natural gas pipelines in Kentucky caused nearly $13,000,000 dollars of property damage, killed two people, and injured four others.
Kentucky is certainly not unique. In 1999, 250,000 gallons of gasoline spilled into a creek in Bellingham, Washington. When the fuel ignited it killed three youngsters in a park. A year later an extended family of twelve camping along a river in New Mexico were burned to death when a natural gas pipeline near the river exploded. The shut down of that pipeline cost the southwest six billion dollars in economic damage. In 2003, a ruptured pipeline in Tucson, Arizona sprayed gasoline over a new development. Many of the houses had to be torn down, groundwater was contaminated, and a serious gas shortage caused prices to skyrocket. Just this past November a gasoline pipeline in Walnut Grove, California exploded killing five after being struck by a construction crew. Pipeline incidents in this country are not rare; in 2003 there were almost two each day, causing over $116,000,000 in property damage.
Pipelines that cross state lines are regulated by the OPS, a small agency within the Department of Transportation, which has been severely criticized in the past few years for its inability to carry out its mission of keeping this country’s pipelines safe. Although Congress has recently passed new laws, and OPS has moved forward with important rules and inspection programs, it is clear that local communities and states need to speak out to protect themselves.
One way that allows a state to have some say in pipeline safety is by forming a Governor appointed Pipeline Safety Advisory Committee. Such committees provide an independent informed group that can collect information from citizens and industry, and make safety recommendations to local, state, and federal officials. The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 also gave such committees unique powers to make recommendations and receive answers from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The formation of such a committee would be a valuable first step to help Kentucky decide what needs to be done to prevent spills and explosions in the future.
Pipelines may be out of sight, but for safety sake they shouldn’t be out of mind.
Carl Weimer, Executive Director
Pipeline Safety Trust