Energy

Did Massachusetts’ Decrepit Pipelines Contribute To Gas Explosion?

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Chris White Tech Reporter

Experts believe updating Massachusetts’ rickety pipeline infrastructure could help prevent future gas explosions in an east coast state that struggled to provide cheap energy to citizens during the winter of 2017.

Old pipelines tend to lead increase the risk of explosions and major leaks, according to John Hughes, president and CEO of the Electricity Consumers Resource Council, a trade group representing the energy industry. He is not the only expert warning Massachusetts about its decrepit pipeline infrastructure.

“It is not clear that it is an infrastructure issue or a lack of resiliency. It was probably some type of neglect or human error. All energy sources have vulnerabilities,” Hughes told the Washington Examiner Tuesday. He was referring to a Sept. 14 natural gas explosion in Massachusetts that killed one person and injured several others.

Investigators are still trying to determine what led to the explosion, but early reports suggest operators likely pumped too much natural gas into a pipe that then caused gas to leak into homes, destroying several houses in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

It could take months to put the pipelines back online, other experts note. “We know that in older areas, we have older lines,” Brigham McCown, founder and chairman of the Alliance of Innovation and Infrastructure, said in a Sept. 14 interview with NPR.

“It’s going to take a while. Remove gas as well. It could take months or longer. It will be highly inconvenient,” said McCown, a former senior executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation who worked on pipeline safety issues.

Perhaps the best way to deal with similar problems in the future for citizens to bite the bullet and upgrade pipelines. “The need for public utilities to reinvest in the infrastructure will manifest itself in issues like this.” Others mirrored McCown’s position.

“The story I see here is about the basic question of the health of natural gas infrastructure, particularly in older cities,” Christine Tezak, a ClearView Energy Partners analyst who studies pipelines and electricity markets, told reporters. “While no one welcomes a rate hike, when you have these older systems, there needs to be a day of reckoning.”

The state’s lack of access to natural gas caused headaches for citizens in 2017 after a brutal blizzard descended on the East Coast that year. (Here’s Why Russia Is Delivering Loads Of Natural Gas To This Deep Blue State)

Officials in Massachusetts and neighboring New Hampshire blocked financing in 2016 for the $3 billion Access Northeast Pipeline, which would have helped the state weather an energy crunch. The state’s decision to rely principally on green energy hiked gas prices and forced it turn to Russian oil imports.

Activist group routinely organize online campaigns to oppose every new coal, oil, and natural-gas project in the country. Greenpeace, for one, argues that the only good fossil fuels are the ones that are left in the ground. The Sierra Club, meanwhile, claims the U.S. is ready for 100 percent green energy.

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