Gas Pipeline Has Activists In New York Going Nuts

November 4th, 2013

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


This entry was posted on Monday, November 4th, 2013 at 2:48 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Enviornment, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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10 Responses to “Gas Pipeline Has Activists In New York Going Nuts”

  1. 1
    Mister Public Says:

    I have to say I am surprised about this post. I found this blog on a pro nuclear blogging list and did not expect to see it defending the gas industry. I guess it is equal opertunity. those who say that this is dangerous are full of crap and that is true, at least compared to all the other gas lines in a place like new york.


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  2. 2
    Joffan Says:

    As with nuclear power, extreme opposition to new pipelines means that old pipelines are nursed along to the extremes of their lifetimes. If constructing a new pipeline gets a little easier, the potential for more demanding regulation of the old pipeline and the chance of its getting replaced gets a little stronger, and safety improves.

    And as with nuclear power, although usually not to the same extent, there are some patently false and misleading arguments deployed against pipeline construction by the BANANA* activists.

    ——————–
    *Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.


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  3. 3
    Matte Says:

            Mister Public said:

    I have to say I am surprised about this post. I found this blog on a pro nuclear blogging list and did not expect to see it defending the gas industry.

    I guess it is equal opertunity. those who say that this is dangerous are full of crap and that is true, at least compared to all the other gas lines in a place like new york.

    This blogpost is not doing that, it is pointing out how stupid arguments people are flaunting concerning NIMBY:ism and BANANA:ism.


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  4. 4
    DV82XL Says:

    The telling thing is that in spite of a history of major accidents, bad press, and public fears that go back almost a century, the natural gas industry has only grown, while nuclear despite little real evidence of its supposed dangers, is constantly fighting for its life.

    It goes to show just how important controlling spin is – and hw bad the nuclear sector is at it.


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  5. 5
    Q Says:

            Mister Public said:

    I have to say I am surprised about this post. I found this blog on a pro nuclear blogging list and did not expect to see it defending the gas industry.

    I guess it is equal opertunity. those who say that this is dangerous are full of crap and that is true, at least compared to all the other gas lines in a place like new york.

    Except the page is more about bad science than anything else and about bull**** public policy and activism.

    The author was pretty consistent about not liking coal burning. However, I bet he would come down if there was any claim that was not true, like that coal burning power plants are making teenagers pregnant.

            DV82XL said:

    The telling thing is that in spite of a history of major accidents, bad press, and public fears that go back almost a century, the natural gas industry has only grown, while nuclear despite little real evidence of its supposed dangers, is constantly fighting for its life.

    It goes to show just how important controlling spin is – and hw bad the nuclear sector is at it.

    Perhaps it is also that people have more experience with gas explosions. They happen often enough. People die, but everyone is aware that it is a local event. If you say to someone “If any of these gas pipes explodes, the whole of North America will need to be evacuated and humanity will face the prospect of extinction” they will realize you are talking out your ass. If you say that about a nuclear reactor, people actually believe it.

    Also, the effects are more understandable. People can understand fire and explosion. That is all pretty obvious. Radiation is invisible and most people have not learned much about it.


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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

            Q said:

    Also, the effects are more understandable. People can understand fire and explosion. That is all pretty obvious. Radiation is invisible and most people have not learned much about it.

    Perhaps, though much of the fear (at least when I was young) was a gas leak killing one while they were sleeping. It t had a reputation f being a silent killer, invisible and until artificial odors were introduced, hard to detect. In fact it was a popular method of suicide, based at least on its use in fiction – turn on the gas oven then lie down in bed clutching a photo of one’s estranged lover – and wait for the end. How often people did die from asphyxiation by NG, I could not say, but it was a real concern for many nevertheless.

    The point is that if it is improperly handled, or if the distribution companies did not have very high safety standards or did not enforce them vigorously, major accidents would be far more common because the stuff has the potential to be extremely dangerous, yet most have learned to live with it, and very much like nuclear, those living closest to it, fear it less than those at a distance.

    If nothing, it shows that PR can overcome these issues, and nuclear needs more of it.


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Perhaps an interesting aside is that suicide by gas used to be much easier than it is now and perhaps this is why some legends persisted about natural gas being deadly.

    Today gas is basically methane. It’s not especially toxic. If you left the gas on and let it fill the house, it would have to displace much of the oxygen to kill you (and by that time it may well have found a source of ignition anyway). If there is no scent to it, this will take a long time but you won’t smell it. If there is an oderant, you’d probably be sick from the foul smell long before it reached deadly levels.

    At one time, the gas piped into homes was not natural gas, but was produced from coal. In the days of synthetic gas, which persisted up to the 1950′s, the gas was a mixture of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. It had enough CO to kill pretty easily at much lower concentrations. This is why it was a popular suicide method.


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  8. 8
    Calli Arcale Says:

    Regarding radon exposure in modern homes, we must also remember the current fashion for stone countertops. While granite is not *always* radioactive, it often is — so much so that studies have found granite countertops to be better at inhibiting bacteria than most other substances. Because of the radiation. Hrmm. So I wonder how many of those fretting about radon have radon-emitting granite countertops in their kitchens and/or bathrooms.


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  9. 9
    Anon Says:

            Calli Arcale said:

    Regarding radon exposure in modern homes, we must also remember the current fashion for stone countertops. While granite is not *always* radioactive, it often is — so much so that studies have found granite countertops to be better at inhibiting bacteria than most other substances. Because of the radiation.

    Hrmm. So I wonder how many of those fretting about radon have radon-emitting granite countertops in their kitchens and/or bathrooms.

    If granite countertops really were emitting enough radiation to seriously affect bacteria (which can take quite a bit more radiation than we can) they’d be quite dangerous to humans, that makes me doubt that it’s the radiation which makes granite countertops better at dealing with bacteria.


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  10. 10
    DV82XL Says:

            Calli Arcale said:

    While granite is not *always* radioactive, it often is — so much so that studies have found granite countertops to be better at inhibiting bacteria than most other substances.

    I would suspect that it was more likely due to the relatively high pH conditions that are found on these surfaces when damp and/or the salts that would begin to leach out due to bacterial action than any ionizing radiation that may be present.


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