I spent a lot of time over the last four months researching pipelines. When I first started, I knew absolutely nothing about them. Pipelines are typically used to transport either natural gas or oil.
In Ohio, both are widely used and constructed similarly. But I decided to dig into what the differences are. Both have very different purposed and, if something goes wrong, different consequences.
Natural gas pipelines:
Natural gas pipelines have main distribution lines and service distribution lines, which are the ones that transport gas directly to your home.
When an accident occurs with a gas pipeline, there’s typically some sort of explosion. For example, this September in Western Pennsylvania, a gas pipeline exploded. No one was injured and only one home was destroyed.
Gas pipelines can also leak methane. According to a study published earlier this year, about 13 million metic tonnes of methane emit into the air per year. The New York Times even declared that “the natural gas industry has a leak problem.”
Much of the leaking likely has to do with older, corroded pipes. In my own research, I found that for Ohio, many of the accidents that occur either have to do with corrosion or an equipment/weld failure.
Another note about gas pipelines: Unlike oil, they don’t leak out measurable liquid. When accidents happen, there is no measure for barrel of liquid lost. So, when they leak, who knows how much goes out into the environment?
For oil pipelines, accidents are a little bit different.
When oil leaks, it spreads. The accidents, unlike gas pipelines, are measured by BBLS, which is basically barrels. One barrel is 42 gallons.
While researching oil pipeline accidents in Ohio, I found that many of the barrels lost are almost entirely recovered, according to government data.
That brings up the question of who decides whether it’s recovered or not? And who decides how much is actually lost?
It should also be noted that older pipelines are more susceptible to leaks. So as pipelines age, leaks become more prevalent.
In 2017, Wood County, Ohio, a Kinder Morgan pipeline had an oil spill that lost about 4,000 barrels of oil. So, about 168,000 gallons. None of it was listed as recovered.
But very little is reported about the spill and what has been done since then.
As the oil spills out into the environment, it can damage plants and also leak into water, possibly corrupting water supplies as well.
What I found over the past four months is that, actually, both oil and gas pipelines are built fairly similar to each other.
But what can happen if something goes wrong is pretty different.