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50,100 Miles of Faulty Pipelines Pose Serious Public Safety Threat Across the US

A recent article on Bloomberg described a disaster that occurred in 1976 in West Texas when an underground oil pipeline exploded, burning to death five people.

Unbeknownst to Cristobal Sustaita an eight inch pipe ran underground near to his house carrying liquefied petroleum gas. The pipe cracked along a faulty welded seam leaking the gases vapours. A cloud of LPG fumes built in the area, eventually igniting in a giant fire ball that rose 200 feet into the air, and covered an area nearly a mile long and a quarter mile wide. The fire engulfed his house whilst he was out visiting his parents, killing his wife and 18 month old son.

Related article: No More Spills? New Technology Could Transform the Pipeline Sector

It was the first time that attention had been brought to the faulty welds that had been made on most pipelines laid in the US before 1970.  Ever since that time more and more leaks have been reported from these pipes, caused by the faulty welds; rupturing, exploding, and killing people, despite the constant warnings released by federal investigators and private consultants.

Currently nearly a quarter of all pipelines in the US (50,100 miles) were laid before 1970 and suffer from these faulty welds, carrying their explosive cargo all over the country, and offering a very serious public safety threat.

The reason that they haven’t been fixed? Industry officials estimate that to replace them all would cost in the region of $50 billion.

The US Transport Department, through the Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration, has the power to force pipeline operators to replace the dangerous sections of pipe, but must weigh the cost of such an action, against the fact that the number of accidents caused by the faulty welds is only a small percentage of all pipeline accidents.

Related article: U.S. Regulators Start Oil-by-Rail Probe

Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, explained to Bloomberg that “there isn’t a silver bullet. It’s going to be a hard fix and with 50,000 miles of it in the ground, it’s going to be an expensive fix.”

The latest major accident caused by the faulty welds was the Exxon Mobil spill in Arkansas that covered a neighbourhood in oil in March this year. This may be enough to finally force industry regulators in Washington to make a decision on how to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future. Whether it be with new, more extensive tests on the structural integrity of the pipelines, or forcing companies to dig up and replace their pipelines.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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