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Gas Pipelines - A Danger? 

The question of the danger of pipelines is a legitimate one.  Highly-publicized pipeline explosions in Bellingham, WA, Carlsbad, NM and recently in Belgium have heightened the public's awareness of the potential danger, and this in turn has caused fear.  To be fair, human error is one of the main factors in pipeline explosions.  Accidental damage to a pipe because of excavation digging is the most common reason leaks and explosions occur.  Other factors are faulty design, natural erosion and tectonic movement.  Through our research, we have found articles that say that new technology has made pipelines safer and that pipelines are the safest way of transporting the fuel, but most of these articles appear in trade publications for the pipeline industry.  Our research has also shown a legitimate and common fear of pipelines due to their explosive potential and the risk of loss of life. 

The most recent pipeline tragedy is the July 30, 2004 Belgium natural gas explosion that killed 18 people and incinerated everything within a 1,200 foot radius.  The blast was so powerful that it threw bodies more than 100 yards.


The 1,200 foot blast radius supports other damage assessments by gas pipeline experts such as
Ben Pooler.  For years he has studied the potential danger of pipelines and concluded that, depending on the contour of the land and any obstructions around a pipeline, the blast radius of a 36" pipeline could be between 800 to 1,200 feet in every direction.  According to Pooler, secondary fires on trees and buildings are to be expected beyond the initial blast radius.

The 2000 Carlsbad, NM explosion verifies that expected 1,200 foot blast radius.  On August 19, 2000, a 50 year-old transmission pipeline exploded along the Pecos River near Carlsbad, NM.  A family of campers was spending the weekend along the river, and though the pipeline was 500 feet away and buried 15 feet below ground, the explosion instantly killed six of the campers and burned the other six so severely that they died shortly after in the hospital. The heat of the blast melted their tents, charred their vehicles, turned sand to glass and 1,000 feet away turned concrete to powder.  The fireball could be seen 20 miles away in Carlsbad.  (For the full story please
click here for the NDTCabin article.)

The other well-known pipeline tragedy is the 1999 Bellingham, WA explosion.  On June 10, 1999, three boys died when leaking gasoline ignited in a Bellingham park.


In the wake of the Bellingham explosion, a grassroots organization, Fuel Safe Washington, published a small study of pipeline tragedies across the United States in a publication titled, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind No More..."  In this study they address the Office of Pipeline Safety record, fatalities by state and misunderstandings about pipelines.


To add to the public's discomfort is the fact that the United States is criss-crossed by hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines.  Many of these pipes are decades old and suburbs have long ago sprawled over them.

While chances are slim that a pipeline will ever explode near a resident's home, the fact that some have exploded elsewhere and the destruction they wreak are enough for some prospective home-buyers to rethink properties with a pipeline easement.

This fear has a tangible effect on property values so much so that studies have shown a noticeable effect on values.  Whether the fear is rational or not is irrevelant.  Courts have ruled that fear, no matter the rationale, is still compensable because it affects the public's buying patterns.

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