Safety in pipelines: The fracking truth

“People die from these things and the people who run the infrastructure for these cities know it they are scared of these systems.” — Dr. Robert Howarth, Cornell University speaking about the pipeline system that carries oil and gas around the United States.

As clean up efforts following the Yellowstone River Oil Spill continue, Congress is preparing to take a closer look at pipeline safety across the United States.

Pipelines, as the Checks and Balances Project pointed out in a recent report, criss-cross most of the United States. And while the Yellowstone River spill in Montana gushed thousands of barrels of oil downstream, many pipelines carry an equally dangerous material: natural gas. And as companies like ExxonMobil, which is responsible for the oil spill in Montana, continue to push for more natural gas production by using hydraulic fracturing, the pipeline issue isn’t going to vanish.

A recent interview, Cornell University professor Robert Howarth underscored the seriousness of America’s pipeline situation.  “People die from these things and the people who run the infrastructure for these cities know it. They are scared of these systems,” said Howarth. The Cornell University researcher is most well known as of late for penning a report that said there needs to be more study on the emissions of natural gas because of leakages in pipelines. This report led to a smear campaign against Howarth from the natural gas industry. Still, in the wake of another pipeline disaster, the professor refuses to be silenced because, as he put it, no one is talking about the pipeline situation.

“So is nobody looking at this?” asked Checks and Balances Project Director Andrew Schenkel.

“No, there is distressingly little attention given to this issue,” replied Howarth.

Below is an excerpt from the Howarth interview about pipelines and fracking:

Given the growing list of oil and gas pipeline mishaps, which over the last 18 months includes 18 deaths, 13 injuries and 85 destroyed homes, the question is how many natural gas pipelines are there in the United States?

Natural Gas Pipeline and Facilities By the Numbers:

  • There are more than 210 natural gas pipeline systems.
  • More than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure on the natural gas pipeline network and assure continuous forward movement of supplies. (Compressor Map)
  • More than 11,000 delivery points, 5,000 receipt points, and 1,400 interconnection points that provide for the transfer of natural gas throughout the United States.
  • 24 hubs or market centers that provide additional interconnections (see map).
  • 400 underground natural gas storage facilities (see map).
  • 49 locations where natural gas can be imported/exported via pipelines (see map).
  • 8 LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities and 100 LNG peaking facilities (see map).

America’s Natural Gas Alliance Targets Cornell Research Professor in Smear Campaign

The gas industry has embarked on another discreditation campaign, this time against a research professor at Cornell University.

Robert Howarth is a biogeochemist and ecosystem scientist who recently authored a study that said gas may produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal production. Howarth’s study has gained much attention, especially from the America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), who apparently felt so threatened by Howarth’s work that they embarked on a discreditation campaign.

All one has to do is give ‘Howarth’ a quick Google search to notice that the first thing that pops up is a smear campaign against the professor. The first link from the search result takes you to the ANGA site where several “experts” explain why they think the study is wrong.

“It used to be that if you Googled my name and my boring lab site at Cornell University was the top pick up. Now there’s an ad from the gas industry which has a critique of why my science is wrong. They are trying hard to push back,” said Howarth.

As for the criticisms made by those on the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Howarth describes them as being “way off base,” and indicative of the fact that the experts may not have even read his report.  “They say things like we didn’t consider the electricity generation and we did. It is in there. You just have to read our paper,” he said.

Others involved in the Cornell study like Anthony Ingraffea, say the attacks on the study and those who conducted it have become personal, which he says he expected. “For the industry to take an approach that attacks Bob and indirectly me, my name is mentioned, is not a good way to conduct a scientific response to what we think is a scientific inquiry. So I am disappointed but not surprised,” Ingraffea said.

Discredidation campaigns have been a frequent concern of citizens who have tried to speak out about fears surrounding gas production. In western Colorado several landowners have described what they call, “economic blackmail” as means of silencing any landowner fears that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is known, is contaminating water supplies and causing other health problems. Another Colorado researcher, who now teaches at the University of Wyoming, says he lost his job at the Colorado School of Mines after doing a study that linked fracking to contamination in the West Divide Creek in Garfield County, Colorado. And as recently as April, citizens in Pennsylvania expressed frustration at the fact they were allowed to speak at a public hearing in Harrisburg, only after several pro-industry voices got speak first.

Now, thanks to some cash from the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, it appears scientists from Cornell University are the latest to have their reputations sullied by the gas industry.