Gas-Pipeline—NIMBY

The proposed natural-gas transmission-line that would cross a small part of Kentucky, including a tiny segment of Woodford County, has recently come under fire from property-owners and others ranging from the “greens” to those who simply “fear” the ramifications such as potential explosions. The greens obviously have no argument since the land is returned to its original condition after construction, a relatively rapid operation, with the possible exception of the loss of a few trees. This is not like strip-mining.

With respect to the fear-factor, in an article in the New Orleans Times Picayune of 20 September 2010 it was noted that according to data furnished by the federal Department of Transportation a total of 35 people were killed and 182 injured in pipeline “events” between 1990 and 2009, for an average of 1.75 and 9, respectively, per year over twenty years. For some perspective, note that in 2009 ALONE there were 10,839 people killed by drunk drivers in the U.S., or 30 per DAY.

Nothing is foolproof, of course, including gas-lines; however, the same people who complain about the transmission-lines, nearly all of which are nowhere near population areas, have no trouble with the gas-lines that form huge grids under places like Lexington and Versailles, for instance, at a depth of less than two feet (probably 18 inches), not to mention within the walls and floors of their houses, schools, stores, etc., all susceptible to rupture through human error.

In the early 1950s I worked for Brown-Root, a gas-transmission company out of Texas, that was laying these lines from Texas to the Northeast, many of which passed through Kentucky, Boyle County in particular. Living in Danville, I worked on the pump-facility between Junction City and Stanford—much of the time operating a jackhammer, which weighed almost as much as I did, and mixing concrete on the job, throwing 90-pound bags of cement into the mixer-hopper and trundling the concrete in huge wheelbarrows.

I was given a wire-brush one morning, told to get inside a pipe-section and scour it clean. That only happened once for obvious reasons and a tool was devised for the job. After that, the jackhammer was cool. There was a salt-tablet dispenser by each water-keg and workers were expected to swallow them (the tablets)…if they could keep them down. I found the same was the case on navy ships a few years before. By days-end, my face and clothes were salt-covered, ghostly white. Nowadays, salt intake is practically a criminal offense in NYC.

But I digress. Much of South Danville was built over those lines, one of them passing under an elementary schoolyard today. It seems that the method of construction hasn’t changed much. The pipe sections are 16-48 inches in diameter, most of them 24-36. The sections, 40-80 feet long, are placed in line and a ditch dug 5-6 feet deep. The sections are welded together, coated with epoxy to prevent rust, and the pipe is lowered to a federal minimum of 3 feet of soil over the top of the pipe, 4 feet under ditches and streams (as of 2007, at least). Most of it is probably deeper.

In a later life, I worked for many years on the railroad between Cincinnati and Chattanooga mostly as a locomotive engineer hustling trains carrying tank-cars holding every conceivable flammable material, including propane gas, during which time I saw many humongous derailments and had a part in cleaning up some of the wreckages. A tank-car can hold up to 34,500 gallons, almost as much as four 18-wheeler-tankers on the highway.

The catastrophic tank-car derailment in Quebec in July that practically blew away a town and killed scores of people was probably due to human error but nevertheless indicated the horrific damage possible when flammable liquids are transported by either rail or highway, the latter important because of the frequently reported truck-wrecks caused by drivers going to sleep.

The pipeline doing virtually no damage is far superior from a safety standpoint to any other mode of oil-transportation. This would be the most valid reason for suggesting the admittedly onerous (NIMBY) eminent domain as a tool in providing for such safety. Property owners would be compensated for the use of their land, however, and would be entitled to – and could demand – its total restoration and complete eradication of all disorder caused by construction.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark