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Pipeline Accidents: A Summary of Issues

2015 is less than two months old. Yet there have already been numerous natural gas pipeline accidents in the United States. Texas has 425,000 miles of pipeline, the most in the United States. The country as a whole has 2.4 million miles of pipeline that could be the source of an explosion or leak.

Are Pipelines Safe? The USDOT Says Yes

The U.S. Department of Transportation says that pipelines are the safest method of transporting natural gas. Older pipeline is constructed from steel, cast iron and wrought iron. New pipelines are either plastic or steel, depending on the operating pressure. Are these pipelines safe? According to the Omaha (Nebraska) Metropolitan Utilities District, there has been a 90 percent decrease in the number of pipeline accidents in the past three decades.

Causes of Pipeline Accidents

The causes of pipeline accidents include the age of the pipeline, excavation accidents, corrosion, natural forces, failure of material or welds, pipeline damage by equipment, and human (employee) error.

Pipeline Accidents So Far in 2015

So far in 2015, reported pipeline accidents have included:

· A leak in the Evangeline Pipeline in Louisiana

· A gas explosion in Brandon, Mississippi

· An oil pipeline break near Glendive, Montana that released significant amounts of oil into the Yellowstone River

· A crude oil pipeline at a pumping station near Texas City, Texas

· The explosion of a 20 inch pipe in West Virginia

The Problem: Two Few Inspectors

It also turns out that pipelines that cross only one state are far more likely to experience accidents than interstate pipelines, which are more closely monitored and regulated. Another factor that limits the ability of regulatory agencies to prevent pipeline accidents is the number of inspectors. According to a report in the Pittsburgh publication, there are 135 inspectors for the federal pipelines and 400 inspectors for the intrastate pipelines.

According to a report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the lack of pipeline inspectors has allowed serious accidents to occur. The report notes that better inspection might have prevented some catastrophic pipeline accidents in recent years.


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