The Commonwealth Pipeline: Serious Risks, Minimal Rewards

The unprecedented exploitation of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas continues its breakneck pace. Early in March, three energy companies proposed that the fracking frenzy could be accelerated even more by building a new gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Washington DC, to get natural gas to market more quickly.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the proposed pipeline — dubbed the Commonwealth Pipeline — would extend 200 miles. Its 30-inch diameter conduit would move at least 800 million cubic feet of gas a day. The proposal anticipates the pipeline would go into service in 2015.

Currently, most of the natural gas mined in Pennsylvania is shipped to New York City and other northeastern locations. The Commonwealth Pipeline would connect northern Pennsylvania fracking wells to destinations in central and southern Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and the District of Columbia.

The three companies involved in the project are UGI Corp. of Valley Forge, Capitol Energy Ventures Corp. of Washington, and Inergy Midstream of Kansas City, Mo., which would build and operate the pipeline. The price of the project is estimated at $1 billion.

Does this make economic sense?

There is no word yet on what tax concessions the companies plan to seek from local communities the pipeline may pass through. The precise route of the pipeline is not yet determined, so tax abatement bargains could be critical to mapping its path.

Some people question the necessity of such a pipeline in the current energy market. The glut of gas extraction from Pennsylvania fracking wells has caused the price of natural gas to plummet as supply outstrips demand. Even the pro-pipeline Washington Times has noted that the price of natural gas (per 1,000 cubic feet) is “just 3 cents short of a 10-year low.” The collapse of gas prices means that workers hired to help on fracking projects are finding themselves unemployed after a month on the job.

Creating an enormously expensive new pipeline to carry a commodity with a steadily-declining value hardly seems thrifty, and Pennsylvanians should be wary of any attempt to tap public funds in support of this project.

Accidents happen…again and again

But the greater cost of the pipeline may be in the risks it poses to the communities it passes through. Oil and gas pipelines have a long history of disasters.

Just days ago, an oil pipeline transporting oil from Canada to the U.S. was damaged by a motor vehicle accident outside Chicago and erupted in a fiery explosion, killing two men and injuring three others. This accident follows the September 2010 rupture of a high-pressure gas line in San Bruno, California, and the explosion of a natural gas pipeline in Appomattox, Virginia, in 2008. Indeed, the Philadelphia Inquirer maintains a list of similar disasters extending back to the mid-1990s.

It’s not as if this proposed new pipeline will be snaking across the barren parts of Alaska or the plains of the upper Midwest. Pennsylvania has a reasonably dense population, so any rupture in the Commonwealth Pipeline will put vital neighborhoods at risk.

Taking action now

Recent court decisions have shown that local communities can use their power to regulate zoning and land use to bar fracking operations and dangerous gas pipelines from their borders. We can only hope that our Pennsylvania neighbors are as outraged over this issue as we are.

On an individual level, if you or a loved one has been injured due to an explosion or accident at an energy industry facility, contact Jon Ostroff right away. Jon is Pennsylvania’s dedicated fracking injury lawyer, and his staff at Ostroff Injury Law stand ready to help you get every penny you deserve from your gas explosion lawsuit. Call today at (855) 880-6667 or fill in the online form to get a FREE, no-obligation evaluation of your case.