Gas Pipeline Explosion

A massive fire following a pipeline explosion roars through a mostly-residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif. on Sept. 9, 2010. Eight people were killed and 58 injured.

JEFF CHIU | The Associated Press

By Freeda Cathcart

Cathcart, of Roanoke, was a former reinsurance specialist for Shenandoah Life Insurance Co. Currently she serves as the Public Policy Chair for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Blue Ridge District.

”Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”

— Abba Eban, former Israeli diplomat

Recent Roanoke Times editorials have asked: “Why not use the easements along existing highways as energy corridors for the pipelines?” and “Does it matter where the natural gas from the proposed pipelines in Virginia ends up?”

When the Canadian safety engineer C. Rhodes learned a pipeline company was considering locating a 42-inch pipeline through a densely-populated area he responded:

“This plan is stupid because that pipeline would be a long term magnet for every anti-USA terrorist in the world . . . If the construction of this pipeline proceeds as originally contemplated, the consequences of a rupture failure, perhaps intentionally caused, would be comparable to the air burst of a small tactical nuclear warhead.”

A 30-inch diameter pipeline ruptured in San Bruno in 2010 located only two miles from the San Francisco airport — 67 fire trucks, 4 fixed-wing aerial water bombers and one fire-fighting helicopter worked to extinguish the flames. Even though the explosion occurred in a suburban area with lot sizes of over an acre, almost all the 38 homes within a 150-meter damage circle were completely destroyed. Seventeen others homes were severely damaged and 53 more sustained damage.

A pipeline rupture located along Interstate 581 in the heart of Roanoke would result in many potential lives and businesses being lost. High-capacity pipelines should not be built in densely populated areas, highways or near each other.

Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for a necessary public use. Businesses can use public right of ways to safely transport their natural gas product using roads, rails and ships to their markets even ones in foreign countries. Natural gas transported through existing pipelines where eminent domain was used or proposed new pipelines using eminent domain must remain within the boundaries of our nation to be in compliance with necessary public use.

American businesses need access to inexpensive energy to be competitive in the global market. It is not in our national interest to allow natural gas to be shipped to foreign countries so their businesses can have access to cheap energy giving them a competitive edge to produce less expensive products than we can. Countries like India already have a labor advantage. America shouldn’t give foreign nations a competitive edge by giving them access to our cheap energy resources while ruining people’s private property.

China invested $80 billion in new renewables generating capacity in 2014 making them the top global leader in renewable energy. The U.S. spent only $34 billion, less than one half of China’s investment. The cost of solar panels have dropped over 70 percent due to China’s investments. China now has the largest wind market in the world.

Lazard, an investment banking firm, evaluated the cost of utility scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt hour and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. Natural gas came in at 6.1 cents and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies the cost of solar is about 7.2 cents and wind is about 3.7 cents. Innovation is making coal obsolete and will soon make natural gas an outmoded form of energy.

Already Wall Street is concerned about the $22 billion debt, owed by the 62 natural gas and oil companies in the Bloomberg North America Independent Explorers and Producers index, trading at distressed levels. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is estimated to cost around $3.5 billion dollars. How will MVP be able to fund building a safe pipeline when their resources are already being spent on losing court cases? Investors aren’t going to support a dying industry.

Franklin County lost economic development in the past due to lack of access to a competitive energy source. Franklin County, Southwest Virginia and Southside need to wisely invest in energy innovations to be economically competitive in the future.

Our region has the opportunity to capitalize on our resources. Human resources can immediately be employed by bringing businesses and homes up to LEEDs energy conservation standards. When the demand for energy decreases then the cost should decrease.

Micro-energy grids based on wind and solar energy will provide jobs and energy security. Agriculture can thrive on growing hemp for bio-diesel fuel to supplement the times when wind, solar and hydro aren’t able to meet our energy needs. Roanoke could reinvigorate engine manufacturing by producing engines that can run on renewable energy and bio-diesel.

Virginia’s economic future depends on utilizing our resources wisely.