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"Natural Gas is Very Safe"...

At least that was the conclusion of a half-page ad in the Montreal Gazette by Gaz Metropolitain just two days before one of Gaz Met's contractors cut through a gas line and detonated an explosion that blew off the facade of a building in Old Montreal. Three women died in the June 10th, 1998 accident and seventeen other people were injured.

Transporters and distributors of natural gas are always eager to place the blame for gas line accidents on "third-party" infringement, but this is clearly a case of first-party liability.

Was this accident avoidable? Theoretically, yes. Will other accidents like this occur in the future? Of course they will.

Gaz Metropolitain spokesperson René Bolté has confirmed that every year Gaz Met deals with more than 500 gas leaks similar to the one that caused the Old Montreal explosion. In spite of preventive measures and improved technology, natural gas accidents will always be with us.

Of course the Old Montreal explosion involved a low pressure, low volume distribution gas line. By comparison, the potential for devastation involving high pressure, high volume transportation lines such as the 24" pipe that TQM wants to shove through the Eastern Townships makes distribution system accidents look like popping paper bags.

According to their own safety experts, a rupture with ignition on the TQM natural gas pipeline would create a fireball over 300 meters in diameter and inflict 2nd degree burns to anyone within 740 meters of the accident within forty seconds.

It's no wonder that thinking people are not enthralled by the prospect of living near a 24" high pressure natural gas pipeline. This writer's family, for example, would be forced to live less than 70 meters from TQM's line.

Our concerns are magnified by the fact that in rural areas such as the Townships, TQM and other gas companies use the thinnest-walled pipe permissible under existing standards, as opposed to the thick stuff they use in higher density population areas.

Throughout their Early Public Information program, TQM spokespersons maintained that the only reason for thicker pipe near cities was to make them more resistant to damage by third-party digging. The National Energy Board's Comprehensive Study Report, however, exploded that myth when it revealed that mitigations against third-party accidents include burying the pipe deeper, warning tape, and placing concrete above the line. Thicker pipe is used to reduce the operating stress of the pipeline: in other words, make it less likely to pop under the high pressures inside of it.

For a chilling description of a transportation pipeline accident, read the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's official report on a pipeline accident near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. This accident was aggravated by a malfunctioning shut-off valve. It burned for about 7 hours and devastated 21 acres. Luckily, no one was around.

How safe is "clean burning" natural gas?" Compared with hydro-electricity natural gas is neither that safe nor environmentally friendly... just cheap.

The question is, what's more important? Human lives, or the bottom line?

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