Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Are Pipelines a Threat to Water?

Propose a pipeline to carry energy-producing petroleum or natural gas anywhere in the U.S.A. today, and you can expect instantaneous opposition from environmentalist activists. One reason often cited by activists is that the possibility of a leak would harm ground water.

Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings is seeking permits to build a liquid petroleum pipeline through Northern New Jersey, part of which will pass through what is considered a “watershed” region. A letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by Anne C. Powley (“Don’t gamble with our water”) opposes the pipeline based on the assertion that it would be a threat to drinking water in the region.

I left these comments:

This is a hollow objection. There are 305,000 miles of existing nat-gas pipelines in the U.S. as of 2007-08. These do not even include local connecting street mains and lines to buildings and homes. In addition, there are 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines. Yet, there is no clean water problem in America.

Clearly, pipelines and clean water can and do coexist. More to the point, these pipelines deliver the vital energy that powers our water purification and delivery systems. Without this energy, our “watersheds” would remain just so much inaccessible ground water rather than turned into the clean water conveniently available at the twist of a knob in our homes.

While many older pipelines are vulnerable to breakdowns, new pipelines represent state-of-the-art technologies, making them safer than ever. But if it’s 100% safety guarantees you’re demanding, you’re demanding omniscience and infallibility, two attributes impossible to man. On that premise, man’s first advance from the cave—the harnessing of fire—would never have happened.

According to the website Pipeline 101:

America depends on a network of more than 185,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines, nearly 320,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines, and more than 2 million miles of gas distribution pipelines to safely and efficiently move energy and raw materials to fuel our nation's economic engine. This system of pipelines serves as a national network to move the energy resources we need from production areas or ports of entry throughout North America to consumers, airports, military bases, population centers and industry every day.

Energy is the industry of industries. Energy powers virtually every aspect of our economic well-being, and fossil fuels provide 86% of the energy. But all of that fossil fuel energy depends on infrastructure to move it, and pipelines play a critical role in that task. Many fossil fuel energy enemies know this. For example, Brendan McGrath, reporting for the Times of Trenton on the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline through a portion of West-Central New Jersey, cited this argument against the project from Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ branch of the Sierra Club:

Tittel said the pipeline will hurt the environment by promoting fracking in Pennsylvania, promoting the use of fossil fuels and discouraging the transition to renewable energies.

Stop the ability to transport fossil fuel product from the drilling fields to refineries and then to “consumers, airports, military bases, population centers and industry,”—and, I would add, water treatment and delivery systems—and you effectively shut the industry down.

Related Reading:

Human Life would be Impossible Without Accepting Dangers that ‘Could’ Happen

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein (Chapter 1, The Secret History of Fossil Fuels, available free.)

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