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Another Fireball: Blowouts, Explosions and Fires

December 17, 2012

A fireball is seen across Interstate 77 in Sissonville, West Virginia in this aerial photo from December 11. A natural gas pipeline exploded in flames near Charleston, West Virginia, on Tuesday, setting nearby buildings on fire and injuring several people, authorities said. West Virginia State Police/Reuters

The West Virginia methane gas pipeline explosion six days ago ago highlights the escalating frequency with which dangerous explosions are happening everywhere gas is fracked, distributed, and used.

Most people don’t realize that recent methane gas pipeline explosions like the fatal one in North Philadelphia last year; in Allentown, PA this year; and West Virginia last week — are a drop in the disaster bucket. Explosive methane gas is referred to by the industry as “natural gas” to make it seem more benign. Before it is separated, the methane is mixed with smaller amounts of propane, ethane, etc., but in the transmission pipelines it’s methane. Methane is deadly not just for climate, but for workers and residents, wherever the spiderweb of pipelines is woven.

One hundred and fifty-one methane gas pipeline incidents, causing 9 fatalities and 28 injuries, have occurred so far in 2012, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These stats are for both the larger transmission lines and the smaller — and deadlier, at least this year — distribution lines, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor in “West Virginia gas pipeline explosion just a drop in the disaster bucket“:

The explosion at Sissonville [West Virginia] adds to a previous tally of 80 small and large incidents this year involving just natural gas transmission lines, the big pipelines that ship huge quantities of gas from production areas to distribution hubs and population centers across the country, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the US Department of Transportation that inspects and regulates the nation’s pipelines.

Of the 80 incidents, 38 were classified as significant, PHMSA data show. The accidents and fires reportedly caused seven injuries, no fatalities, and $44 million of damage.

Added to this year’s accident tally for gas transmission lines were another 71 incidents with nine fatalities and 21 injuries involving natural gas distribution lines, the much smaller gas lines under lower pressure that bring gas directly to residential and commercial customers in and around major population centers, the PHMSA data show.

Pipelines do more than explode. Pipeline construction fells trees and degrades water, while pipelines leak methane into the atmosphere, destroy land and livelihoods, and put lives at risk. Please stay alert for opportunities to stand up to and stop — construction of major pipelines, including the Constitution Pipeline and Commonwealth Pipeline, which the industry wants in order to profit from fracked Marcellus Shale gas.

At least 40% of this fracked methane gas, if these pipelines are built, will head for lucrative LNG export markets. Another sizeable portion of it will be used to create chemical-based fertilizer, and for unnecessary and toxic uses such as plastic bags manufacture. Just enough will be thrown in for residential use to help the industry get popular buy-in for their argument that it makes sense to burn up our climate in order to heat homes. But what they’re really doing is pushing back hard against wind, solar, geothermal, and the large-scale practical changes needed right now to avert no-holds-barred climate change.

Clean and Safe? Fiery Footage from CHK Oklahoma Blowout Fire

Chesapeake Energy, which prefers not to call a blowout a blowout (it’s a “control incident” — or perhaps a “loss of control incident”) had yet another blowout in 2012. Please watch this footage of a dramatic blowout fire at a Chesapeake Energy drilling site in Oklahoma on January 5th, 2012.

The witness, we presume a worker who must remain anonymous, who posted this fiery footage, titled his 7-minute Youtube video “Chesapeake Energy Nomac Rig 17 Blowout Fire.”  You can see rescue vehicles doing nothing but helplessly flash their emergency lights. During this type of disaster, it’s impossible to put out the blaze as long as the gas flows. A steady stream of water shoots onto the huge gas-burning fireball — with no impact whatsoever — and the drill rig itself topples and falls, bringing the U.S. flag towards the ground before it burns.

Three days ago (12/14/12), Oklahoma regulators went public with their analysis: the disaster could have been prevented if Chesapeake reported the well casing failure on their nearby well, which CHK clearly knew about. Chesapeake violated safety procedures. See “Blowout could have been prevented,” which also reports it took 6 days to get the blowout under control.

The video uploader explained, “I waited for an hour for that drill rig to fall… but when it actually went down, I was on the phone with my wife.” Whether chasing fire or chasing ice on camera, catching the moment is demanding. Chesapeake previously caused the massive Bradford County, PA blowout in April 2011.

Also of interest: “Explosion at an Oklahoma oil rig” September 2011. On September 19th, 2011, residents were forced to evacuate their homes when an oil rig explosion sent flames shooting up to 100 feet in the air in Watonga, Oklahoma (about eighty miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

You can see that fiery footage in this 26 second report from Channel 2 of Tulsa, OK about the explosion and fire.

Blowouts are also common during pipeline construction. Scores of drilling mud blowouts have been reported in Pennsylvania. An estimated 6 thousand gallons of drilling mud fluids escaped during this blowout at a frack site just last month: “Reported frack blowout at Hess site in Cadiz, Oklahoma” on November 10th, 2012.

With all these dramatic blowouts, explosions, fireballs and other types of fires going on, perhaps it’s no wonder that Pennsylvania residents who reported this year that they saw an explosive fireball and felt their homes shake, got no play in the media whatsoever. The fireball explosion took place at the Phelps Chief well pad in Lathrop, Susquehanna County, according to Rebecca Roter, who took reports from nearby residents.

Back to the Future: Warnings in Fire and Ice

We can’t afford to get to the point where it’s “another day, another fracking explosion.”

We can’t afford to go numb to these explosions, to the earthquakes, to the health impacts, to any of it — any more than we can afford to go numb to other kinds of violence. When our children are in danger, we have to stop. Whether it’s the frenzy of war, the frenzy of fracking, or the frenzy of gun violence, we need to learn, and re-learn, active nonviolence.

We have to take action based on the sobering message contained in these escalating fires and in the ice  — in the tracks of glaciers which have now melted as much in ten years as they melted in the previous one hundred.

Because of methane, fracking accelerates climate change. Because of methane, 151 pipeline incidents occurred so far in 2012 — not including any of the fracking blowouts, fireballs and other incidents at well pads. Methane is not a bridge fuel, it’s a deadly fossil fuel that will frack our future unless we change course now.

One Comment
  1. December 17, 2012 1:02 pm

    The writing is on the wall. Thank you for this post!

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