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Let me first state, for the record, that I am not a huge fan of the natural gas industry. As far as fossil fuels go, natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal, but that’s not saying much. Still, it’s nowhere near as clean or as safe as nuclear fission as an energy source. Still, gas is certainly a vital part of our current energy mix. Gas is widely deployed for domestic and commercial heating and hot water and replacing it with cleaner sources would require massive upgrades in electrical or district heating capacity and deployment of new systems.
So, for the time being, gas is a necessity and that gas must come from somewhere and be delivered somehow. This is what pipelines are for. Although natural gas is occasionally shipped as a liquid, by tanker, it is most often transported by pipeline, with pipes reaching all the way to the end user. Yes, there is a natural gas pipe that comes into my home and I’d be pretty cold in the winter without it.
But there is one thing I hate more than the gas industry and that is fear-mongering and outright lying.
I will just make a few points about some of the claims in this video:
- Gas pipelines explode. It happens. It does not happen very often, but it does happen. A major leak can send out a massive cloud of gas which then ignites, in effect making it a fuel-air bomb. However, given the thousands of miles of gas pipeline in North America alone, it’s not a very big danger. Sure, the safety is not as good as that of a nuclear reactor, but that would be setting the bar unreasonably high. If you live on a gas pipeline, you should probably be more worried about car accidents or heart disease along with many other things.
- Older gas pipelines are at a much greater danger of exploding than newer ones. Older pipelines may not be built to the same safety standards and are more likely to suffer corrosion or other problems. New York City already has many old gas pipelines. If anything, this will improve safety by taking some of the load off of the older infrastructure. The San Bruno pipeline, which was mentioned, was more than fifty years old when it exploded and had not received any recent maintenance or inspections.
- If you don’t like fracking, you had better find another fuel, because that’s where gas comes from these days. Most gas in North America is the result of fracking to enhance well production. Although there are environmental issues, they are not nearly as bad as it is often portrayed. There is still some gas produced by conventional wells. There’s little solid evidence that this is much better for the environment (all gas production has its issues). It also does not really matter where it came from, because it’s a commodity that all comes from the same market. If you buy gas that was not produced from a fracked well, you will just displace gas out of the market and the effect is the same.
- The pipeline may well have been approved without most of those in the local community wanting it. This is known as NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard. Everyone wants to be able to heat and cook, but they want the infrastructure elsewhere. New York City really does not have any areas that are not inhabited. Although, there may be areas that have less vocal hipsters, looking for something to get hot and bothered about.
- Natural gas does contain radon when it comes from the well head. Where it comes from may have some effect on the level of radon, but it’s generally pretty low. Since radon has a half-life of less than four days, it’s even lower by the time the gas is processed and send to the end user. Cooking with natural gas does result in some additional exposure to radon and thus radiation dose. If you are radiophobic, you should probably not cook with gas, although in that case there are many things you should not do (for example, leaving your lead-lined cave.)
Even if Pennsylvania gas does have higher radon levels as a result of being less distant, the exposure is very small. It’s much smaller than living in a home with a full basement that was built in an area with uranium-bearing granite. I should also point out, for the woman who is shocked by the idea of radon in her apartment, that there already is radon in her apartment. Radon is constantly seeping from the earth and is therefore detectable in the lower atmosphere at all locations. If she cooks with gas, it is already slightly higher than average.
I do have some sympathies for the idea that natural gas is just not the safest fuel and that a reduction in the use of natural gas would save lives and reduce environmental damage. That is certainly true. Obviously this is impossible unless an other energy source replaces it. Until that happens, and as long as gas remains a major fuel for domestic use, there will be gas pipelines in cities. It’s better to build new ones than just wait for the old ones to blow up.