You wouldn’t want to upset the job creators, now, would you?
WAYNESBURG, Pa. – Through the hilly fields here in southwestern Pennsylvania, crews worked for months this year, cutting a trench through woods and past farms for a new natural gas pipeline.
Like many other lines crisscrossing the state’s Marcellus Shale regions, this pipe was big – a high-pressure steel line, 20 inches in diameter, large enough to help move a buried ocean of natural gas out of this corner of the state. It was also plenty big enough to set off a sizable explosion if something went wrong.
There was trouble on the job. Far too many of the welds that tied the pipe sections together were failing inspection and had to be done over.
A veteran welder, now an organizer for a national pipeline union, happened upon the line and tried to blow the whistle on what he considered substandard work.
But there was no one to call.
Pennsylvania’s regulators don’t handle those pipelines, and acknowledge they don’t even know where they are. And when he reported what he saw to a federal oversight agency, an inspector told him there was nothing he could do, either.
Because the line was in a rural area, no safety rules applied.
“It’s crazy,” said Terry Langley, the union official, worried that any problems would literally be buried. “It seems to me that everyone is turning a blind eye.”
In Pennsylvania’s shale fields, where the giant Marcellus strike has unleashed a furious surge of development, many natural gas pipelines today get less safety regulation than in any other state in America, an Inquirer review shows.
Hundreds of miles of high-pressure pipelines already have been installed in the shale fields with no government safety checks – no construction standards, no inspections, and no monitoring.
“No one – and absolutely no one – is looking,” said Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer with Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm focusing on the environment.