Thursday, September 16, 2010

San Bruno: Wake Up Again, Already!

The horrific explosion of a gas pipeline last weekend in San Bruno, California (just outside of San Francisco) once again reminds us that we are relying on a system of extracting, refining, and distributing fossil fuels that is collapsing and ripe for replacement.

Like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill--the "Death Gusher"--and a subsequent e platform explosion off Louisiana's coast, San Bruno's disaster was a failure caused by a combination of private greed and regulatory slack. Oil and gas pipeline accidents happen with shocking frequency in the U.S., partly due to the age of many of the pipelines, partly due to the difficult corrosive conditions and stress often caused by external conditions (like weather, seismic instability), but mostly due to the fact that utility companies find it convenient to charge their customers for maintenance and then focus on repair rather than prevention.

It's one thing if pipelines cross uninhabited barren lands, as with the classic Alaska one (though the wildlife may not view them so comfortably), but pipelines in densely inhabited areas require increased measures to isolate and protect the surrounding population. I don't know if containment, as with nuclear power facilities, is a feasible solution, but this is an outrage, poses unacceptable risk, and immediate remedies should be sought, even if the cost to these companies is massive. Sell your PG&E shares!

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