The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) administers the Department of Transportation's national regulatory program to assure safe transportation of natural gas and other hazardous materials by pipeline. They report that from 1984 to 1999 in Virginia there were 57 gas pipeline accidents, which resulted in 2 deaths, 16 injuries and $15,763,890 in property damage and 24,571 barrels of lost gas1.

  • OPS also reports that from 1986 to 2000 the total of transmission and distribution incidents were 3,240 with 334 fatalities, 1,434 injuries, and $502,389,152 in property damage for the country2.
  • Washington (AP) reported on June 17, 2000 that accidents are increasing on the 2.2 million miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and other hazardous materials nationwide, as the federal government slacked off on enforcing many safety regulations, investigators say. An average of 22 people died annually from 1988 to 1998 when the number of accidents was increasing 4% per year, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO found the OPS has not enforced 22 of 49 safety regulations passed by Congress since 1988, including periodic inspections of pipelines. At the same time, the federal government is imposing fewer fines on the pipeline industry, relying instead on “letters of concern” as an enforcement tool. Fines accounted for 49% of OPS enforcement actions in 1990, 4% in 1998.

  • 3/19/90 – North Blenheim, NY: “A liquid natural gas pipeline burst sending 100,000 gallons of product flowing down into the town – enough to engulf the entire town… Two people were killed and seven injured. Causes: negligent maintenance procedures resulting in cracks in the pipe which were undetected; operator error; insufficient remotely operated valves and check valves3.

  • 3/24/94 – Edison, NJ: “Natural gas transmission line burst and exploded. 1500 residents evacuated and $25 million damage…Causes: Line hadn't been “pigged” since 1986, but it had deteriorated; no remote automatic valves; pipe manufacturing standards lax; no extra measures for highly populated areas3.

  • 7/7/98 – Loudon County, VA: An explosion and fire destroyed a new home, killing the wife, seriously injuring her husband and two children. Five other homes and two vehicles were also damaged. Safety issues: inadequate standards; lack of requirement for installing excess flow valves4.

  • 12/11/98 – St. Cloud, MN: A gas pipeline ruptured and 39 minutes later exploded resulting in four fatalities, one serious injury, 10 minor injuries, six buildings destroyed and $399,000 in damages. Safety issues: inadequate safety and emergency procedures, inadequate procedures and training of fire crew to respond to gas leaks5.

  • How much will it cost us to train our fire departments to be able to respond to a pipeline accident, which could be more serious than some of the above smaller line incidents?


  • The Gas Research Institute (GRI) lists a number of chemicals that are used in the natural gas industry: biocides, antifoamants, coagulants/flocculants, corrosion inhibitors, demulsifiers, scale inhibitors, and surfactants, to name a few. They report that “getting complete and organized information on chemicals presents a formidable challenge for an individual gas company and its personnel.” They go on to state that although there is abundant information on these chemicals, this is usually too general or narrow, requiring several sources. Data on the uses of these chemicals and their effectiveness is cited as “inconsistent.” 6

  • Since the 1980's there has been a debate on “how clean is clean enough?” The gas industry term is “environmentally acceptable endpoints” or EAE. Because the cost of soil remediation (cleaning up their spills) is so high, there is a movement to minimize the effects of these toxic chemicals by stating that the contamination is clean enough. The GRI is sponsoring a study on EAE's and will develop an answer to this question in 5 to 10 years7.

  • In another paper by GRI researchers, it is reported that “fluids containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) were used as lubricants in natural gas transmissions” and that evidence of external contamination from transmission and distribution systems were discovered in 1987. They state that PCB's will persist in the environment for decades. This study found that the health risks are within an “acceptable range,” so the plan is to just leave them where they leak out8.

  • Mercury manometers are used to monitor gas pressure and flow along natural gas pipelines. Leaky fittings, pressure surges, equipment failures, vandalism, and inadvertent spills may cause contamination from releases of mercury. A GRI publication states “there are thousands of mercury-contaminated sites of this type throughout the US.” Most (97-100%) of the contaminant is elemental mercury, which moves downward and may be transported through volatilization or as a soluble ion. Their research concludes that there is “no substantive migration into ground water” due to the interaction of mercury with the soil minerals and organisms9.





    4-       National Transportation Safety Board:

    5-       National Transportation Safety Board:

    6-       Gas Research Institute:

    7-       GRI: “Determining Environmentally Acceptable Endpoints in Hydrocarbon-Contaminated Soils”

    8-       GRI: “Management of Trace Contaminants in Natural Gas Pipelines,” J.A. Haru & Roy Weston,Inc.

    9-       GRI: “Introduction to Mercury in the Natural Gas Industry,” Henke, et al, 1993.