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According to a new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, gas pipeline incidents across the U.S. were serious enough to require reporting to the federal government at the equivalent of one every 40 hours from 2010 through nearly the end of 2021.
“For as long as methane gas has been used, it has posed a risk to people who use it for heating and cooking in their homes and those who live in neighborhoods above gas pipes,” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “House explosions and leaking pipelines are not isolated incidents – they are the result of an energy system that pipes dangerous, explosive gas across the country and through our neighborhoods. Policy makers need to lead the move away from gas and toward safer, cleaner electrification.”
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group report states that of the nearly 2,600 incidents between 2010 and 2021, 850 resulted in fires and 328 in an explosion. Those incidents killed 122 people and injured more than 600. The total costs to communities from items such as property damage, emergency services, and the value of intentionally and unintentionally released gas, totaled nearly $4 billion. These incidents also resulted in the leakage of 26.6 billion cubic feet of gas, equivalent in its effects on climate change to emissions from over 2.4 million passenger vehicles driven for a year.
Brown added, “the serious pipeline incidents addressed in the report likely represent just a fraction of the leaks experienced in the production, transportation and burning of gas. Smaller gas leaks are rife in urban areas, while large methane leaks from gas and oil production threaten the climate.” A study from 2018 found that leaks from gas lines over the previous two decades had nearly doubled the climate impact of gas. In addition, some serious gas explosions that have caused death or injury are not included in the data as they did not occur in the pipeline system.
“Leaks, fires and explosions are reminders that transporting methane gas is dangerous business,” said Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst at Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “The incidents included in this report were caused by a wide variety of factors, from operator errors to equipment failures, and excavation damage to natural causes. Fully protecting the public requires us to reduce our dependence on gas.”
The organizations recommend that the U.S. stop relying on methane gas for home heating and cooking as well as electricity generation. Instead, the report calls on policy makers to incentivize and accelerate the transition to all-electric buildings and renewable sources of energy, which are cleaner and safer for communities. During the transition, the report recommends that gas infrastructure investments focus on fixing leaks.
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