Cristobal Sustaita didn’t know about the pipeline running underground near his West Texas home until it erupted into a fireball in 1976, burning to death five people including his wife and 20-month old son.
The explosion was one of the first to focus attention on a lethal welding flaw in U.S. pipelines built before 1970. In the decades since, this type of pipe has continued to leak, rupture and explode, killing more people, despite repeated warnings to the industry from federal investigators and private consultants.
In fact, as much as 50,100 miles of similar pipelines — a quarter of all U.S. liquid-bearing lines — still crisscross communities carrying explosive products such as gasoline, liquefied gas or crude oil. While critics contend their lingering presence represents an unacceptable public safety threat, pipeline industry officials estimate it would cost $50 billion to replace them all, helping explain why they remain.
The U.S. Transportation Department, which has oversight through its Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration, is required to weigh costs against the fact that the number of accidents involving welded pipe are a small percentage of all pipeline accidents. Phillips 66 and Magellan Midstream Partners LP are among pipeline operators that might have to pay for upgrades if they were ordered.
“There isn’t a silver bullet,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit watchdog. “It’s going to be a hard fix and with 50,000 miles of it in the ground, it’s going to be an expensive fix.”Read the whole article here.
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