Norfolk Southern Disaster Highlights Pipeline Safety

On February 3rd, a freight train derailed in East Palestine Ohio, causing a fire that released hazardous chemicals into the air and land nearby. The derailment of the Norfolk Southern train is, for good reason, one of the biggest news stories in America, with some 1,500 residents forced to evacuate as 38 rail cars derailed, 11 of which carried dangerous materials. The accident is an unfortunate tragedy that highlights the inherent risks associated with rail transportation and emphasizes the need for more pipeline infrastructure. 

Transporting energy resources via pipelines is a safer, more reliable alternative to transporting the materials by train or truck. Although the chemicals released in East Palestine could not have been transported via pipelines, the disaster underscores the possible risks of moving oil or natural gas by rail. 

Pipelines must go through rigorous federal processes before they are even approved—let alone constructed. Pipeline regulations are not limited to the Department of Transportation, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, among other agencies, all play a significant role in monitoring and overseeing these projects. 

The onerous permitting process for domestic energy infrastructure projects, specifically pipeline projects, is a bipartisan issue that must be addressed by Congress. If pipeline projects continue to be held up, more energy resources will inevitably be transported by rail or truck, increasing the likelihood of accidents.

The U.S. produces roughly 12 million barrels of petroleum products a day and an average of 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Approximately 80% of oil and gas products in the U.S. are moved by pipelines. Modern pipelines are built with state-of-the-art equipment, such as technologies that remotely monitor the infrastructure 24/7, 365 days a year, which can shut down parts of pipelines if leaks are detected. 

The East Palestine disaster should serve as a reminder that pipelines are a vital tool in the safe transportation of potentially hazardous materials. Oil and gas are a necessity for everyday life, and pipelines are the key to making sure these resources get to market and consumers safely. Congress can help expedite new pipeline projects by passing  permitting reform legislation, which should be a priority for the 118th Congress.

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