On Monday morning, a man was killed by an explosion at an oil well in Bolivar, Ohio. The man is believed to have been an employee working on the site, but his identity won’t be released until it is confirmed with dental records.
This wasn’t big news in Pittsburgh, even though Bolivar is just a two hour drive from here. But why not? Is it because the incident was across state lines, or because tragedies of this sort are actually fairly routine? The answer, I think, is “both”.
In yesterday’s Pipeline, the Post-Gazette reported on a story of President Obama talking energy policy in Cincinnati. This is hardly comparable, because the words of the President are routinely discussed in national and international media. The same is not true of accidents, even those leading to fatalities, unless the number of victims or the amount of property damage is exceptionally high.
I’m not suggesting that every incident that leads to a fatality is necessarily deserving of nationwide coverage, but in some cases, the model of regional coverage can keep people from realizing that dangerous patterns exist.
As I was trying to research the incident, I kept finding more and more of them, some of which I was already aware of, some of which I was not. Here are a few examples from the past two years:
- San Bruno, CA-September 9, 2010 A 30 inch pipeline exploded, killing eight, destroying 38 properties, and damaging many more. After checking several sources, I could not find a total number of injuries. The blast left a crater 167 feet long by 27 feet wide by 40 feet deep. PG&E blamed the 2010 blast on a strength test conducted on the pipe in 1956. Reporters covering the story initially thought the fireball might have been due to a plane crash.
- McKean County, PA-December 12, 2010 and February 28, 2011 In separate incidents, two houses with a few miles of each other exploded without warning. The Pennsylvania DEP suspected the methane migration was due to, abandoned wells in the area, the closest of which was drilled in 1881.
- Philadelphia, PA-January 18, 2011 A Philadelphia Gas Works employee was killed and five others were injured in this blast. The workers were trying to repair a broken gas main when a furnace glow plug ignited vapors inside a building. (Photo right)
- Allentown, PA-February 10, 2011 Five were killed and about a dozen more were injured in a giant blast and fire that destroyed eight properties and damaged 47 others. As of this February, investigators were not close to explaining the cause of the explosion.
- Hanoverton, OH-February 10, 2011 On the same night as the deadly Allentown blast, there was a pipeline explosion in this Ohio town. One building was damaged, but nobody was hurt in the explosion and subsequent fire that could be seen for miles.
- Avella, PA-March 25, 2011 Three workers were hospitalized when storage tanks exploded and caught fire when a volatile vapor was somehow ignited at this natural gas well site.
- Glouster, OH-November 16, 2011 This pipeline explosion was so strong it was felt 12 miles away. Three houses and a barn were destroyed in the blast, and one woman was hospitalized, but there was no word of fatalities.
- Springville, PA No injuries were reported at this compressor station blast in northeastern Pennsylvania, but it blew a hole in the roof of the facility and was felt a half mile away.
- Norphlet, AR-May 21, 2012 Three workers were killed in this blast near El Dorado, Arkansas, which according to the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), was set off while doing “hot” work such as welding or cutting in an area with hazardous vapors.
CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “This unfortunate tragedy in Arkansas involving the deaths of three workers is the kind of hot work accident that occurs much too frequently. The CSB has investigated too many of these accidents which can be prevented by carefully monitoring for flammable vapor before and during hot work.”
This list is by no means comprehensive. In fact, after the incident in Allentown, Carl Weimer of the organization Pipeline Safety Trust was quoted in the USA Today:
Transporting natural gas by pipeline is the safest way to move that energy. Still, every nine or 10 days on average someone ends up dead or in the hospital from these pipelines. More needs to be done for safety.
And of course, pipelines are only one part of the problem.