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Op-Ed: Beaver County Pipeline Explosion: How to Prevent Future Catastrophes

This blog post originally appeared as an opinion piece in the Sept. 20 edition of the Beaver County Times.

Residents of Center Township, Beaver County, narrowly avoided a catastrophe on Sept. 10. A newly constructed natural gas pipeline ruptured, causing a terrifying explosion and fire that destroyed a house and several garages and vehicles.

Although it’s a great relief that no one was injured, we must still consider what we can do to prevent a similar occurrence, or worse, in the future.

It’s easy to chalk the explosion up as an accident. The ruptured pipeline was caused by a landslide, an unintentional, chance occurrence. We can’t prepare for that. Not true. If office towers can be built in cities prone to earthquakes, pipeline operators can prepare for landslides and minimize their impact.

In this instance, the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Corporation, had installed the proper erosion and sedimentation controls, but they were not working at the time. That’s what Jim Shaner, executive director of the Beaver County Conservation District, the agency responsible for inspecting ETC’s pipeline construction procedures, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So, lax safety practices by ETC, which also owns the problem-plagued Mariner East 2 pipeline, offset the safeguards in place, assuming those “safeguards” are enough.

But isn’t a landslide an act of God? Not much we can do to prevent that. Again, not true. The landslide was caused by intense rains during the previous four days. Experts are attributing the heavy rains and flooding we’ve been experiencing this summer to climate change — an act of man. Furthermore, climate science is signaling a much wetter future for our region, so land saturation and flooding from more frequent and more intense rainfall is coming.

No, this near-disaster cannot be dismissed as an accident or an act of God. The real culprit here is bad public policy and misguided economic development investments. For decades, policymakers of both parties have refused to allocate enough funding to the state agencies responsible for permitting and monitoring pipeline construction, and protecting our health and the environment. Furthermore, investing in gas, and not renewable and clean energy, is shortsighted, reckless and, as the Center Township explosion demonstrates, dangerous.

By failing to take the necessary steps to address climate change, legislators put our communities and climate at risk. Pursuing policies and investments that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and begin to level the playing field between gas and renewables, such as wind and solar, would unequivocally prevent calamities like the one in Center Township.

The leading environmental organizations in Pennsylvania are fighting to improve current policies. The Pennsylvania Common Conservation Agenda, an action plan developed by a statewide coalition of more than 25 conservation and environmental groups, contains a number of practical policy solutions for bipartisan bolstering of the state’s clean-energy sector, adequately funding the state agencies responsible for protecting the environment and natural resources, achieving environmental justice for the most-vulnerable communities, improving the quality of drinking water and more.

Achieving the policy changes called for here is going to require a groundswell of support from Pennsylvanians. With a pivotal election taking place Nov. 6, we need to take our demands for more enlightened, proactive environmental policies directly to the candidates running for governor and the Legislature. All of us must do our part. Visit to find out what you can do now to fight for a healthier environment in Pennsylvania.

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