Unions and environmentalists have found common ground in the debate over the natural gas drilling: fixing leaky, decaying pipelines that threaten public health and the environment, according to a recent report by ABC News.
The leaks are a problem because methane, the primary component of natural gas, is explosive in high concentrations and is also a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, ABC reports.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that more than 30,000 miles of decades old, decaying cast iron pipe are still being used to deliver gas nationwide. Repair costs are estimated at $82 billion.
Trade unions and environmentalists have been at cross purposes over natural gas drilling, because the unions want jobs and the environmentalists want to save the planet from natural gas emissions.
One scientist who has studied the issue of leaky natural gas pipes praised the push for repairs. Fixing leaks “will save money and lives, improve air quality and health, and slow climate change. What’s not to like?” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was part of research that found extensive leaks throughout Boston and Washington, D.C., neighborhoods.
United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard added in a statement that such projects support “American manufacturing and jobs” and that “replacing aging pipe in our natural gas infrastructure is critical to a cleaner economy” and more efficient gas distribution.
Dean Hubbard, the Sierra Club’s labor director, says they’re working with the AFL/CIO and other unions to identify priorities at the state and national level. “We are really focused on urban distribution pipelines especially because of public safety concerns,” Hubbard said. “We will advocate for repair.”
In 2011, a crack in a cast-iron main that was installed in 1928 helped to fuel an explosion that killed five people and destroyed numerous homes in Allentown, Pa., while a 2011 explosion and fire in Philadelphia was traced to a cast-iron main installed in 1942, according to ABC.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, New York City still uses about 3,000 miles of decades old cast iron pipe, Boston about 2,000 miles, Philadelphia about 1,500 miles, and the District of Columbia 400 miles. Experts say much of the old pipe dates to before World War II, and some of it may even be more than 100 years old. For example, Philadelphia Gas Works, the nation's largest municipally owned gas utility, was founded in 1834.
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