Why to prefer pipelines

It’s the safer way to transport natural gas and create jobs

Want to protect Pennsylvania’s environment and strengthen its economy? Build more pipelines.

Despite the emotion-filled protests charging that pipelines will doom our future — including a group of environmentalists who marched on the Governor’s Mansion in February — the facts tell a different story. Pipelines are safer than any other mode of transporting fuel. When pipelines carry natural gas, they reduce carbon emissions and global warming. And the pipeline industry supports thousands of family-sustaining jobs.

There are few places where the positive economic impact of the natural gas pipeline boon is more obvious than in Pennsylvania. At least 80,000 men and women are employed in extracting and distributing shale natural gas, according to the Governor’s Office. Industry groups, such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition, put that figure much higher, with at least a quarter-million jobs supported by the sector.

Many of these jobs were created as the Great Recession ravaged the labor market, providing a desperately needed lifeline for thousands of working people. And they continue to provide work in some areas of the state that have long been starved of economic development. These are typically good jobs, providing good pay and benefits, as well as training that open the doors to new opportunities and lifelong careers for workers. In short, pipelines and natural gas will have created nearly $20 billion in economic activity for the state by 2020, including billions of dollars in wages, according to a state House study.

The greatest danger associated with transporting fuel isn’t pipelines — it’s trucks and trains.

According to a ProPublica study, the difference is deadly: Fatality statistics comparing truck transport vs. pipelines showed oil pipelines are about 70 times safer than distribution by trucks, and common sense would indicate the statistics would hold true for natural gas as well. Today’s pipelines can be safer than ever, when constructed with the most highly skilled workforce available. They are state-of-the art, with remote monitoring and automatic shut-off technology. Not only are pipelines safer, they are how we can continue to provide consumers with affordable energy.

For many in the more extreme environmentalist corner, safety concerns are but a ruse to hide a real goal of reducing carbon emissions by blocking any and all energy projects. Yet their position on this collides with reality as well. Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon than coal, and significantly less than oil, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In fact, the growth of natural gas use is largely responsible for a reduction in U.S. carbon emissions between 1997 and 2013.

Will there ever be incidents involving pipelines? Of course there will, as there are with anything created by people. But the facts make the case that transporting energy by pipeline is the safest, most environmentally friendly distribution method available, and one that also fuels our economy.

For the working people of Pennsylvania — who rely on energy jobs to feed their families, to maintain access to affordable fuels and who also care about our environment — the natural gas industry and its associated pipelines are crucial to a sustainable future.

Dennis Martire is vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union. This was written with Phillip Ameris, Ryan Boyer and Anthony Siewell, who lead Pennsylvania’s three District Councils of Laborers.