EGEB: Why Baltimore’s gas explosion is sad but unsurprising

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  • Baltimore’s natural gas infrastructure is aging — and leaking — and it’s putting people’s lives at risk.
  • The EPA is expected to lift controls on greenhouse gas methane.
  • A slight majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking, according to a new poll.
  • Arcadia Power is committed to making clean energy work for the planet and your bank account — all without changing your utility company. Sign up to receive your $20 Amazon Gift Card.

Baltimore gas explosion

Three houses in Northwest Baltimore were destroyed by a natural gas explosion on Monday, killing one person and seriously injuring at least six others. Children were also trapped in the rubble. More than 200 rescue personnel attended the scene of the explosion.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is used to produce almost 25% of US electricity. In Maryland, it heats around 50% of homes.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) is the nation’s oldest gas utility, dating back to 1817. Chris Burton, BGE’s vice president for gas distribution, said in May that one-third of its gas distribution mains, one-quarter of its gas services, and half of its transmission mains are over 50 years old, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In September 2019, the Baltimore Sun published a story titled, “Baltimore’s natural gas system is increasingly leaky, raising concerns about safety and global warming,” in which Scott Dance writes:

More and more natural gas has been leaking out of aged pipes in and around Baltimore in recent years, likely diminishing the fossil fuel’s relative Earth-friendliness [Electrek‘s note: Natural gas is not Earth friendly at all] and creating hazards that can lead to explosions…

Leaks are so frequent that nearly two dozen of them are discovered each day, on average, according to data the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reports to federal authorities. The number of leaks increased by 75% from 2009 to 2016 — amid what officials called a “dramatic” increase in the failure of pipe joints dating from the 1950s and 1960s.

Beyond the immediate safety concerns, the leaks contribute to the greenhouse effect that has been warming the planet for decades. And new research suggests more natural gas from Baltimore and other older cities is reaching the atmosphere than previously thought.

Natural gas emits methane, which is is the second most long-lived greenhouse gas, and it currently makes up 10% of emissions in the US.

Methane rule rollback

Speaking of methane, the New York Times reports that the EPA is expected to roll back controls on the release of methane, which were put in place by the Obama administration. This announcement is expected to be made on Friday.

The New York Times writes:

The EPA’s new methane rule eliminates federal requirements that oil and gas companies must install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and storage sites.

EPA officials say the new, weaker methane rule is needed to free the oil and gas industry from what they call crippling regulations at a moment when companies are suffering from plummeting prices and falling demand driven by a sharp global economic slowdown. The weakening of the rule, however, has been in the works for more than a year.

In August, Andrew Wheeler, the head of the EPA, made public a draft of the methane rule, saying at the time that it ‘removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry.’

Electrek’s Take: OK, let’s just mull over Wheeler’s quote for a minute. He’s concerned, not about people whose houses blew up, or the health of Americans, or the warming planet. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who is now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is interested, first and foremost, in what’s best for the oil and gas industry.

Pennsylvania fracking

Pennsylvania is a crucial swing state in the US election, so it’s being closely watched and polled. Natural gas development is a major industry in the Keystone State. A new CBS News poll found that 52% of registered voters in Pennsylvania oppose fracking, and 48% favor the oil-and-gas extraction method.

Unsurprisingly, 48% said that Donald Trump would do a better job on issues surrounding oil and gas exploration, compared to 42% for Joe Biden. Further, Pennsylvania Republicans polled favored fossils heavily over Democrats.

Biden released his green energy plan in July and put job creation at the heart of his “Build Back Better” agenda. Biden would be wise to really drive that point home in Pennsylvania, where fossil-fuel energy workers will be worrying about staying employed as the world moves rapidly toward green energy.

Biden’s plan states on his website:

We need millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities.

The investments will make sure the communities who have suffered the most from pollution are first to benefit — including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.

Photo: Baltimore Sun

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