Sustained Outrage

ProPublica: As Obama touts gas, EPA retreats

President Barack Obama speaks about climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. The president is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property, resorting to his executive powers to tackle climate change and sidestepping the partisan gridlock in Congress. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Last week, when President Obama unveiled his broad plan for trying to slow climate change, West Virginia political leaders acted as if coal was the only thing the president talked about. As we reported in the Gazette, the president also voiced very strong support for continuing to increase natural gas drilling:

West Virginia’s political leaders raced this week to attack President Obama’s climate change plan and its potential impacts on the already declining coal business, but they didn’t mention another key part of the administration’s plan: strong support for continued growth in natural gas drilling, especially in places like the Marcellus Shale region.

During his landmark speech Tuesday at Georgetown University, Obama praised shale-gas drilling as a cheaper, cleaner fuel that can power the nation and create thousands of new jobs.

“It’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future,” Obama said.

The White House’s 21-page climate plan adopts the natural gas industry’s line that gas is a “bridge fuel” that generates fewer greenhouse gases and is ripe for replacing coal in power plants and gasoline or diesel as vehicle fuel.

As we also explained:

Obama acknowledged that more needs to be done to make natural gas drilling safe for water supplies and surrounding communities. The president also noted the need to better control leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane from natural gas production, an issue that scientists say urgently needs more attention before the drilling boom advances much more. However, the president still cited it — along with renewable sources — as providing “clean energy.”

“Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions,” the president said in his speech Tuesday.

Obama’s strong push on natural gas didn’t sit well with everyone in West Virginia, where environmental groups say a new state drilling law is far too weak and questions persist about whether new gas-industry jobs are going to in-state residents or not.

“We look forward to a day when the administration sees fracked gas for what it is — a fossil fuel of the past and a threat to public health,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chairman of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

And now, ProPublica has an important new piece headlined EPA’s Abandoned Wyoming Fracking Study One Retreat of Many:

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its multimillion-dollar investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field last month, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike.

In 2011, the agency had issued a blockbuster draft report saying that the controversial practice of fracking was to blame for the pollution of an aquifer deep below the town of Pavillion, Wy. – the first time such a claim had been based on a scientific analysis.

The study drew heated criticism over its methodology and awaited a peer review that promised to settle the dispute. Now the EPA will instead hand the study over to the state of Wyoming, whose research will be funded by EnCana, the very drilling company whose wells may have caused the contamination.

Reporter Abrahm Lustgarten explains:

Industry advocates say the EPA’s turnabout reflects an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking and that its science was critically flawed.

But environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling, even as President Obama lays out a plan to combat climate change that rests heavily on the use of natural gas.

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As the Marcellus drilling boom continues, the media reports of almost unlimited jobs and economic impact grow and grow (see here, here, here and here) — with few questions ever asked about where the estimates of the industry’s benefits come from.

Things get especially out of hand when West Virginia political leaders turn to their efforts to tout the potential benefits of getting a “cracker” plant to locate in the state. We’ve tried before to bring some sense to that discussion, and we’ve pointed out that state officials never really finished a legislatively mandated report that was supposed to examine whether the jobs that the Marcellus boom is creating were actually going to West Virginians.

Now comes an important post from PolitiFact Ohio that addresses similar issues in a neighboring state.  The post examines claims by the Ohio Oil and Gas Association that the industry has created 40,000 new jobs in that state:

No source for the jobs figure was given with the ad, which we accessed on April 10, so we called the Oil and Gas Association and asked how it was supported.

They referred us to “America’s New Energy Future,” a report by the global market information and research company IHS, Inc.

Given wide coverage when it was released in December 2012, the report was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the Natural Gas Supply Association.

The report includes state-by-state breakdowns on how many jobs have been created and are projected to 2035 due to shale exploration. It refers to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing as unconventional drilling.

Now, keep in mind that this industry-funded study is the same one that many media reports in West Virginia (see here, for example) have cited, and check out what PolitiFact had to say:

The figure of “nearly 40,000” is an accurate reference to the IHS report. And the ad’s reference to jobs “in all walks of life” does indicate that the jobs net is being cast over a wide area not solely restricted to drilling.

But the reality and relevance of the number in the context of the ad is undermined considerably by the fact that it is not the result of surveying but of modeling; that fewer than half of its nearly 40,000 jobs are directly or indirectly related to drilling, and that the single largest element — almost 30 percent of the jobs total — consists of unidentified “induced” jobs.

We think the ad’s reference to the creation of new jobs would reasonably be taken as referring to permanent or continuing jobs, not temporary employment.

Further, the touting of jobs “right here in Ohio” that are “restoring Ohio’s heritage” is not supported by the substantial percentage of jobs going to out-of-state workers, even if that percentage is diminishing.

Finally, the IHS report says its figure of 38,830 jobs refers to total jobs supported by drilling during 2012, not to new jobs created in the year, as the ad claims.

And the words matter. The IHS report itself makes clear that there is a difference between jobs that are “created” by the industry — which, in a generous reckoning, would encompass direct and indirect jobs — and jobs that are “supported,” which would be all of the 21,020 induced jobs.

That’s an important distinction that the ad ignores, and it accounts for more than half the jobs that the ad claims.

So the association has misrepresented its own industry’s study with compounded exaggerations.

The Truth-O-Meter says Pants on Fire!


Remember when U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller held a congressional field hearing about natural gas development in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale region and one local sheriff likened the drilling boom to an “invasion”? That was Marshall County Sheriff  John Gruzinskas and he told lawmakers at that April 2012 hearing:

Since Marshall County is already an industrial county, we thought we have seen these surges in industry come and go. We were never prepared for the onslaught of heavy trucks that would monopolize our roads, damage our property, and destroy our roads. These trucks travel our roads all hours of the day and night. The drivers are not from here so they do not care what happens as a result of their reckless operation. Our roads are destroyed from these overloaded vehicles. And our state is a willing participant in this destruction.

The sheriff continued:

The majority of our complaints of traffic crashes are hit and run crashes, and large trucks running off the road. What we have experienced is that most of the companies sub-contracted by the gas drillers are from southern and western states. The drivers are not familiar with our winding narrow roads. This makes for a bad combination for our local oncoming traffic. Many of our residents are run off the road by the large trucks. Although we try and educate our residents to get as much information as possible about the offender, so we can take enforcement action, it is difficult for them to do that as they try to keep from going over the hill.

And now this week, we have this terrible news out of Harrison County, as reported by The Associated Press (and originally reported by the Clarksburg paper here and here and WDTV here and above):

Investigators are looking into a driver’s report that his brakes failed before his water tanker collided with a car and killed two Clarksburg children.

The boys, 7 and 8 years old, died in a weekend crash with a T&S Trucking tanker loaded with brine water from a gas drilling operation. It happened on a U.S. 50 off-ramp.

Clarksburg Police Chief Marshall Goff said the boys’ mother is Lucretia Mazzei, 49. The boys attended Adamston Elementary. Harrison County sent counselors there and to other schools Monday to help children cope.

The truck driver hasn’t been identified or charged. Goff said the driver told police his brakes didn’t work properly, but a preliminary investigation suggests they weren’t an issue.

T&S Trucking is based in Mineral Wells. The company didn’t immediately return messages.

We’ve reported before here about the dangers faced by workers in the gas-drilling industry (National Geographic had a recent story that focused in part on describing the life of a female water-truck driver) and recently, the results of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigations of vehicle accidents in the natural gas industry were published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related fatality in the U.S. as well as in the oil and gas extraction industry. This study describes the characteristics of motor vehicle-related fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. It compares the risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash in this industry to other major industries and among different types and sizes of oil and gas extraction companies. There were 202 oil and gas extraction workers who died in a work-related motor vehicle crash from 2003 to 2009. The motor vehicle fatality rate for workers in this industry was 8.5 times that of all private wage and salary workers (7.6 vs. 0.9, p<.0001). Workers from small oil and gas establishments (<20 workers) and workers from well-servicing companies were at greatest risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash. Pick-up trucks were the most frequent type of vehicle occupied by the fatally injured worker (n=104, 51.5%). Safety belt non-use was identified in 38.1% (n=77) of the cases. Increased focus on motor vehicle safety in this industry is needed, in particular among small establishments. Extraction workers who drive light duty vehicles need to be a specific focus.

New study looks at gas drilling water pollution

There’s a new study out today that looks closely at the potential for water pollution from the boom in natural gas drilling, and does much to dispute the industry line that there’s nothing at all to worry about.

Here’s the abstract:

Concern has been raised in the scientific literature about the environmental implications of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations, and published studies suggest that shale gas development may affect local groundwater quality. The potential for surface water quality degradation has been discussed in prior work, although noempirical analysis of this issue has been published.

The potential for large-scale surface water quality degradation has affected regulatory approaches to shale gas development in some US states, despite the dearth of evidence. This paper conducts a large-scale examination of the extent to which shale gas development activities affect surface water quality. Focusing on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, we estimate the effect of shale gas wellsand the release of treated shale gas waste by permitted treatment facilities on observed downstream concentrations of chloride (Cl−) and total suspended solids (TSS), controlling for other factors.

Results suggest that (i) the treatment of shale gas waste by treatment plants in a watershed raises downstream Cl− concentrations but not TSS concentrations, and (ii ) the presence of shale gas wells in a watershed raises downstream TSS concentrations but not Cl− concentrations. These results can inform future voluntary measures taken by shale gas operators and policy approaches taken by regulators to protect surface water quality as the scale of this economically important activity increases.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was done by Sheila Olmstead of the Washington, D.C., think tank Resources for the Future.   You can read the whole thing online here.

Olmstead and her colleagues studied the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and used regression analysis of more than 20,000 surface water quality observations to estimate the effects of shale gas wells and the release of treated shale gas waste on downstream water quality. The authors found that treatment of shale gas waste by treatment plants in a watershed raised downstream chloride concentrations but not the concentration of total suspended solids (TSS). In contrast, the presence of shale gas wells in a watershed raised downstream TSS concentrations but not chloride concentrations.

And if you missed it, we had a story in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail that looked at research that suggests the Marcellus Shale boom in West Virginia and elsewhere is being over-hyped by the industry and its political supporters:

The potential for natural gas from shale formations to fuel the nation’s energy future is greatly over-hyped by the industry and its political supporters, according to a recent report that says wells are playing out faster than has been projected.

Geologist David Hughes says in the report that “the geological and environmental realities” of the ongoing boom in shale gas and shale or “tight” oil “deserve a closer look” by political leaders and the public.

“The projections by pundits and some government agencies that these technologies can provide endless growth heralding a new era of ‘energy independence,’ in which the U.S. will become a substantial net exporter of energy, are entirely unwarranted based on the fundamentals,” Hughes wrote. “At the end of the day, fossil fuels are finite and these exuberant forecasts will prove to be extremely difficult or impossible to achieve.”

Which way should W.Va. go on clean vehicles?

Alternative fuel vehicles have been getting an unusual amount of attention in West Virginia lately.  Last month, the Gazette and other media gave a lot of attention to this story:

The Interstate 79 corridor will be dotted with four compressed natural gas filling stations by 2014, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced during a news conference Thursday.

The announcement took place near the Spring Street Foodland, the site of the planned Charleston station.

IGS Energy-CNG Services will build the four stations. The other three sites are near Jane Lew, Bridgeport and just across the Pennsylvania state line at Mount Morris.

State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said that although IGS is an Ohio company, it chose to build the stations in West Virginia because state lawmakers were ready with legislation to make natural gas feasible.

T.J. Meadows, West Virginia business manager for IGS Energy-CNG Services, and a West Virginia native, said the stations in Charleston and Bridgeport should be open and operating by fall.

A few weeks later, West Virginia Public Broadcasting promoted natural gas vehicles with this story:

With technology for natural gas powered vehicles on the horizon, many consumers are sure to be excited about the possibility of lowered fueling costs and reduced emissions. However, there are a few bumps in the road in making these vehicles available for a mass market.

With fueling costs of natural gas vehicles roughly one-third of traditional unleaded gasoline fueled vehicles, motorists are sure to embrace the new technology. Chesapeake Energy spokesperson Phil Pfister explains how these vehicles have fared in other states.

“Right now in Oklahoma, motorists that are fueling up are fueling up for 99 cents a gallon equivalent, versus—we’re paying about $3.50 for gasoline here in West Virginia. In Louisiana motorists are fueling up for about $1.49 a gallon equivalent. So, there is a lot of cost benefit. Additionally, it produces a lot cleaner exhaust stream; less CO2, less carbon monoxide, less particulate matter.”

And today, the local media is giving pretty good play to this report from The Associated Press:

It’s not often that environmental organizations and the coal industry come down on the same side of a policy debate. But that’s happening in West Virginia, where both groups have concerns about Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal to eliminate a state tax incentive for plug-in electric cars and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

The tax credit covers 35 percent of the cost of an alternative-fuel vehicle, up to $7,500 for cars and $25,000 for large trucks. The credit would remain in place for vehicles that run on natural gas, propane and butane, but would be phased out in 2017, rather than 2021 as scheduled.

And since last July, members of a task force appointed by Gov. Tomblin (a task force made up mostly of natural gas industry officials or advocates) have been working on plans for how the state could convert more of its fleet of vehicles to natural gas. The media have treated this all as a no-brainer, writing things like this without any attribution:

The benefits of natural gas as a fuel are clear: It’s cleaner, abundant and costs about half as much as gasoline.

It’s no wonder that a variety of local officials are strongly backing natural gas vehicles. They’re all eager to do whatever they can to help West Virginia cash in on what they believe is a bonanza of economic development related to natural gas drilling in the state’s Marcellus Shale region. What’s been less in evidence, though, is much discussion about whether the state’s current direction on vehicle fuels is one that experts on energy policy and climate change is one that makes sense.

Not everyone who follows policies in this arena is as optimistic about natural gas vehicles as West Virginia political leaders seem to be. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists makes this recommendation:

Natural gas can play a role in reducing global warming pollution, but using it for transportation fuel does not represent one of the best climate solutions. For example, a natural gas-powered Honda Civic delivers about a 15 percent reduction in global warming pollution compared with a conventional gasoline-powered Civic, but a gasoline-electric Civic hybrid costs less and delivers a 30 percent reduction in emissions.

While it can make sense to use natural gas for vehicles fueled in a central location, such as taxis or delivery vehicles, expanding natural gas use in passenger vehicles would require major investments in new fueling infrastructure that would become obsolete as cleaner technologies come to market. A better use for natural gas in the transportation sector would be as a resource to generate cleaner electricity for plug-in vehicles or hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

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Tomblin recycles proposal to hike pipeline safety fines

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, delivers his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal last night to increase West Virginia’s civil penalties for pipeline safety violations seems like a no-brainer, given that the state’s current fines are a maximum of just $1,000 per violation per day — far less than the federal government’s fines of up to $200,000 per day.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Tomblin portrayed this proposal as a response to last December’s huge natural gas explosion and fire on a NiSource transmission line out in Sissonville:

Just a few months ago, many of us watched in shock when flames ripped through a community near Sissonville leaving houses leveled and a part of our highway charred when a major pipeline exploded. It was a true blessing no one was injured or killed. We have learned from that explosion and the investigation that followed, that West Virginia’s pipeline safety statutes are outdated-with weak penalties and enforcement measures. In fact, West Virginia is currently out of compliance with federal guidelines.

Tonight, I am proposing legislation to bring our State into federal compliance. I propose a maximum penalty of up to $200,000 per violation, per day. It is my hope by increasing penalties, we will meet federal standards and ensure overall public safety.

But what’s strange here is that, as we reported in today’s Gazette, this problem isn’t new, and neither is the proposal for solving it. Just last year, Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan, proposed a bill aimed at increasing the state Public Service Commission’s penalties for pipeline safety violations. And that legislation made it clear:

The purpose of this bill is to raise the civil penalties that the Public Service Commission can impose for violations of Gas Pipeline Safety Act from the existing $1,000 for each violation to $100,000 for each day of violation to a maximum of $1 million for any related series of violations. This change would mirror the federal regulations.

Interestingly, though, Sen. Kirkendoll’s bill — as it was originally proposed on Jan. 25, 2012 — would not have mirrored federal regulations. The original bill proposed to increase West Virginia’s maximum per-day, per-violation fine to $100,000. But as of Jan. 3, 2012, when President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, the federal fines increased to a maximum of $200,000.

The bill was amended to mirror that new law. It passed the state Senate, but died in the House of Delegates.

In fact, though, efforts to increase West Virginia’s civil penalties for pipeline violations date back to at least 2005, when this bill was introduced.

Witnesses set for Rockefeller pipeline safety hearing

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has set the witness list for Monday’s big pipeline safety hearing here in Charleston. Witnesses include:

— Sue Bonham, a resident of Sissonville, West Virginia whose home was damaged during a natural gas transmission pipeline explosion in December.

— The Honorable Deborah Hersman, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

— The Honorable Cynthia Quarterman, Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

— Ms. Susan Fleming, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, United States Government Accountability Office

— Mr. Jimmy Staton, Executive Vice President and Group CEO, NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage

— Mr. Rick Kessler, President of the Board, The Pipeline Safety Trust

Sen. Rockefeller said today:

I’m looking forward to hearing from all of our witnesses next week. Our policy decisions and industry practices should always be driven by the real life implications of our work. One witness, Sue Bonham of Sissonville, will share her personal experiences that underscore the importance for all of us to continue our efforts to work toward improved safety across the board.

Later today, we’re expecting the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the ability of natural gas pipeline operators to respond to emergency incidents like last month’s near-disaster in Sissonville. The GAO report was mandated by the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, which was based in part on language from Sen. Rockefeller and was signed into law by President Obama in January 2012.

UPDATED:  The GAO has posted its report, and here’s the summary:

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has an opportunity to improve the ability of pipeline operators to respond to incidents by developing a performance-based approach for incident response times. The ability of transmission pipeline operators to respond to incidents–such as leaks and ruptures–is affected by numerous variables, some of which are under operators’ control. For example, the use of different valve types (manual valves or “automated” valves that can be closed automatically or remotely) and the location of response personnel can affect the amount of time it takes for operators to respond to incidents. Variables outside of operators’ control, such as weather conditions, can also influence incident response time, which can range from minutes to days. GAO has previously reported that a performance-based approach–including goals and associated performance measures and targets–can allow those being regulated to determine the most appropriate way to achieve desired outcomes. In addition, several organizations in the pipeline industry have developed methods for quantitatively evaluating response times to incidents, including setting specific, measurable performance goals. While defining performance measures and targets for incident response can be challenging, PHMSA could move toward a performance-based approach by evaluating nationwide data to determine response times for different types of pipeline (based on location, operating pressure, and pipeline diameter, among other factors). However, PHMSA must first improve the data it collects on incident response times. These data are not reliable both because operators are not required to fill out certain time-related fields in the reporting form and because operators told us they interpret these data fields in different ways. Reliable data would improve PHMSA’s ability to measure incident response and assist the agency in exploring the feasibility of developing a performance-based approach for improving operator response to pipeline incidents.

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There’s a new study out this week from researchers at Duke University and Kent State University that concludes:

… Developing the Marcellus shale has increased the total wastewater generated in the region by about 570% since 2004, overwhelming current wastewater disposal infrastructure capacity.

The study is online here (but by subscription only) and there’s a press release here that says:

Hydraulically fractured natural gas wells in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania produce only about 35 percent as much wastewater per unit of gas recovered as conventional wells, according to the analysis, which appears in the journal Water Resources Research.

“We found that on average, shale gas wells produced about 10 times the amount of wastewater as conventional wells, but they also produced about 30 times more natural gas,” said Brian Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State, who led the analysis while he was a postdoctoral research associate at Duke. “That surprised us, given the popular perception that hydraulic fracturing creates disproportionate amounts of wastewater.”

However, the study shows the total amount of wastewater from natural gas production in the region has increased by about 570 percent since 2004 as a result of increased shale gas production there.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Lutz said. “On one hand, shale gas production generates less wastewater per unit. On the other hand, because of the massive size of the Marcellus resource, the overall volume of water that now has to be transported and treated is immense. It threatens to overwhelm the region’s wastewater-disposal infrastructure capacity.”

 

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Tomblin mention of Utica Shale a bit puzzling

It wasn’t surprising to hear Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin promote natural gas drilling as a big part of West Virginia’s economic future. But one part of this line from the governor’s inaugural address was a little odd:

And we continue to focus on making the most of the tremendous opportunities presented by both the Marcellus and Utica Shale. The Shale development and the potential economic growth and jobs that will come with the revitalization of the manufacturing sector are astounding; and West Virginia is right in the center of it all.

The Utica Shale? Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard many West Virginia political or business leaders touting that. Instead, they tend to focus on the Marcellus Shale, which is the formation where gas drilling in West Virginia is booming. Most of the Utica Shale action is in Ohio.

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Flames burn from a gas line explosion across Interstate 77 near Sissonville, W.Va., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. At least five homes went up in flames Tuesday afternoon and a badly damaged section of Interstate 77 was shut down in both directions near Sissonville after a natural gas explosion triggered an hour-long inferno that officials say spanned about a quarter-mile. (AP Photo/Joe Long)

As the week ends, and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board officials continue to collect evidence in their effort to figure out what happened on Tuesday out in Sissonville, some key issues have already begun to emerge about the huge NiSource natural gas pipeline explosion and fire that could have easily turned into a massive disaster.

During a briefing last evening, NTSB investigators revealed part of what will undoubtedly become a central focus on their probe into the incident. As my colleague Travis Crum reported from board member Robert Sumwalt’s briefing:

It appears the pipe was about 70 percent thinner than it should have been to sustain pressure of 921 pounds per square inch measured at the time, he said.

An area along the bottom of the pipe, running about 6 feet long, was measured at less than one-tenth of an inch thick, he said. This thinning indicates that some segments along the pipe wall were about 30 percent thinner than required.

“There are many things that can cause pipe wall thickness to deteriorate and that is exactly what we will be looking at . . . ,” Sumwalt said. “What caused this pipe wall to become deteriorated? What caused it and what finally led to the actual rupture and explosion?”

You can watch that briefing for yourself here:

So far, the NTSB has declined to provide the information it has gathered about when this particular piece of 20-inch-diameter pipeline was made and installed, or its preliminary information about recent examinations of the pipeline by either NiSource or government inspectors. But as investigators move forward, they will be looking not only at this particular pipeline, but also at the entire system NiSource is supposed to have in place for “integrity management” of its thousands of miles of pipelines.

One local television station has hyped its report alleging recent safety violations on “that very pipeline” that ruptured and exploded. But a closer look at the records involved suggests that some of the violations highlighted in that report actually involved a 30-inch-diameter section of the NiSource pipeline network that is “upstream” or west of the Lanham compressor station, where the company’s “SM-80” pipeline scaled down to 20 inches. On the other hand, other local media have dismissed incidents involving leaks — and allegedly not reporting those leaks — as not “directly related to the structural integrity of pipes.” That ignores the possibility that leaks are a warning of something more serious that’s wrong (and the idea that leaks in and of themselves aren’t good things), and also wrongly downplays questions that have already emerged about NiSource’s ability to respond to an incident like this one.

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