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An explosion: From Despair to Opportunity

February 5, 2011

Strategies for Job Creation (Part 3 WOW)

A massive fire is roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., Sept. 9, 2010. Photo/Paul Sakuma)


On the evening of September 9, 2010, a massive explosion ripped through the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno. The explosion and resulting fires killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes. What caused the disaster was the explosion of a high pressure natural gas transmission line.[1] Last fall we had a series of posts on the explosion showing that a large percentage of these large pipes are: (1) frequently located in or adjacent to populated areas (2) aging and vulnerable to cracking and corrosion (3) poorly regulated. A recent investigation indicates that a contributing factor to the San Bruno explosion was that PG&E (owner) transmitted the gas under a pressure that was too high for the condition of the pipe and may have been over legal limits.

We also reported on a situation in Hyattsville, Maryland where Washington Gas has applied for a permit to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in the midst of a residential neighborhood and close to a large senior medical care

Transmission line mileage as a function of age. Click to enlarge

facility. This must see TV newscast shows similar problems with major leaks in Massachusetts. The problem is nationwide.

Jobs galore: Replacing aging gas transmission lines will not only improve the safety of communities nationwide, but would provide hundreds of thousands of jobs – direct and spinoffs. To remove and replace lines will require engineers, surveyors, construction workers, heavy equipment operators, pipe joiners to replace the lines.

The urgently needed modernization will require thousands of miles of new pipe and all of the valves and gages needed to regulate the pressure and flow of gas. An AP article (Feb. 5, 2011) indicates that a lack of automated shutoff valves contributed to the accident at San Bruno. [3]

There will also be a need for many of high-tech high tech “pigs” which travel through and remotely sense pipelines for leaks, corrosion and other problems. (The pigs cannot operate in many older pipelines which is part of the safety problem with thousands of miles of aging transmission lines). Manufacture of equipment and materials will also provide jobs – provided that the manufacturing is done domestically.


Natural gas transmission line being installed in Florida. Source: Plant City Courier Tribune

More inspectors are desperately needed around the country consider that the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has only five pipeline inspectors to cover thousands of miles of gas transmission lines in the state.[2]

Infrastructure and Investment: The replacement of aging gas transmission lines is but one of many examples of how critical infrastructure investments would provide large numbers of jobs. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama focused on business and job creating and entrepreneurial potential of critical infrastructure investments.

Republicans were quick to label Obama’s talk of investments “more deficit spending.” Yet what they don’t seem to get is that federal investments are a way to “prime the pump” for economic development. Rather than invest in needed infrastructure from education to public safety, House GOP members have pledged to slash $100 billion from domestic programs. What they don’t seem to get is the necessity of priming the pump. Nor do they understand the terrible effect on jobs that pulling the plug on domestic programs can have.

GOP Raises a legitimate  question — how to pay for it? There are many proposals out there for funding vital programs without adding to the deficit. Here is what we like: tie corporate tax rates to their job creating potential. As we emphasized in Part 2, the large mega-financial firms (which received trillions in bailouts) are now making huge profits — enough to pay their executives hundreds of millions in bonuses. Tax them heavily, because they haven’t done much to create jobs. Secondly, tax oversees profits through the roof — such investments have contributed to massive job loss. On the other hand, cut taxes for those companies that create jobs here at home.

We invite your comments.

[1] Transmission lines are the large diameter, high volume and high pressure pipes that carry natural gas from the gas fields to distribution points. Distribution lines deliver gas to the points of use such as homes and businesses.

[2] John Clementson, Maryland Public Service Commission, personal communication, September 16, 2010.

[3] The AP article states, “One reason is that the line was not equipped with remotely operated or automatic shut-off valves that would have halted the gas within minutes of the accident — devices that federal safety officials have recommended to industry and regulators for decades. An Associated Press investigation found that the utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., agreed as far back as 1997 that remotely operated valves did a better job of protecting public safety than manual ones. But it opted against using them widely across its network of high-pressure transmission lines, saying they weren’t necessary or required.”

MATTHEW BROWN and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press, February 5, 2011, Read more. Thanks to former Washington Gas Inspector, Curtis Gray, for his many contributions including his sending us this article.


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