Protesters gathered all around the country this week in opposition to a controversial crude oil pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe opposing the Dakota Access pipeline project, are worried that if there was an accident, the pipeline could contaminate their water. How serious are these risks?
On the morning of April 29, a natural gas transmission line exploded in a field in Salem Township in western Pennsylvania. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape, burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius and threw a 25-foot section of the 30-inch steel pipeline 100 feet away. At the time of the explosion, a 26-year-old man was in his house, a few hundred feet away. He was badly burned, and his home destroyed. When local fire chief Bob Rosatti arrived at the scene, the flames were so hot, he had to stay in his truck. “They were massive—I would say 300 feet at the least,” Rosatti says. “That was the biggest fireball I’d ever seen in my life.
Despite a drop in oil prices, oil and gas companies are still producing more oil than existing pipelines can carry. As the industry tries to build new pipelines, small communities are turning to new — and risky — tactics to keep their land.
Millions of miles of pipeline are slated to be built in the United States over the next two decades and most that will happen on private property. Historically, property owners haven’t benefited from pipeline construction, but that’s changing.
Pigs are used for cleaning pipelines, pipelines that carry natural gas, crude oil, waste water from energy producing areas to the places where that energy is used. Perhaps more importantly, they are used to inspect the millions of miles of pipeline that crisscross the country for corrosion and other problems.
There’s an invisible network connecting every corner of the United States. Without it, cars wouldn’t start and lights wouldn’t turn on. At 2.6 million miles, if it were stretched out, it would reach around the Earth more than a hundred times. Chances are, you’ve never noticed it. The nation’s sprawling pipeline network is buried underground, out of sight and out of mind. But it wasn’t always the case that pipelines crisscrossed the nation, bringing energy where it was needed.
About forty-five percent of U.S. crude oil pipeline is more than fifty years old. Even pipeline laid into the ground in the 1920s and before (think the There Will Be Blood era) is still operating today.
More than a half a million miles of new pipeline will be built in the United States by 2035, according to a new study by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. That’s 22 trips around the Earth and then some.
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative of partners across the US and supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting