Climate Impacts on Gas Infrastructure Increasing

August 9, 2019

Fossil fuel industry finding Karma is real.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

There have been plenty of high-profile landslides dislodging and destroying oil and gas pipelines over the past few years, just as rains have wreaked havoc outside the oilfield — collapsing Route 30 in East Pittsburgh last year, opening up a giant sinkhole at a shopping plaza in Greensburg last month.
The oil and gas industry is both a victim and a perpetrator of this dislocated earth.

With hundreds of well pads and thousands of miles of pipelines newly added to the ground in Pennsylvania over the past decade, the industry’s development disturbs the surface and eliminates some trees and vegetation that would otherwise absorb rainfall. Then the rain, in turn, floods culverts, soaks the ground and moves soil without regard for what pipelines may be relying on its support.
What we usually hear about is the big stuff — the fireballs in the sky documented by live-streaming drivers and neighbors. Last year alone, three newly laid pipelines snapped under pressure from landslides in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio — causing explosions, evacuations and millions of dollars in damage.

But in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s violations database, there are many more unsung examples of how the earth slips and slides around energy infrastructure, sometimes punching right through erosion barriers and sometimes just menacing them with increasing rain.
More than a few times, pipeline and extraction companies cited for erosion violations by the DEP pleaded not guilty by reason of weather — record-breaking, abnormal weather.

Breaking records
The weather is indeed not normal.
At least not yet.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said June of this year marked the wettest 8-month, 9-month, 10-month, 11-month, 12-month, 18-month, 24-month, 36-month and 48-month periods in Pennsylvania since record-keeping began in 1895.
Over the past 12 months, nearly 2 feet more of rain fell than in an average year in Pennsylvania last century.

According to Pennsylvania’s official Climate Impacts Assessment — last revised in 2015 — it will get worse from here.
Average annual precipitation in the state has increased 10% over the past 100 years. By 2050, it is expected to increase another 8%, with a 14% increase during winters, when it will fall mostly as rain instead of snow.
Rains will come more frequently in heavy bursts than in the past.
And that will make fixing hillside slips even more challenging.
“Sometimes the weather gets so inclement that you can’t do anything. It’s like a soup sandwich,” said Joe Todaro, who sells compost filter socks to pipeline companies for Ohio-based Millwood Natural LLC. “We were ready to build an ark.”
A few years ago, a heavy rain might have delayed Ben Wright’s hydroseeding company, Hydrogreen LLC, by an extra day.
“This year, if there’s a storm, we’re out for four to five days because the soil is too wet to get equipment on,” he said.

The problem is evolving faster than environmental regulations. Those don’t prescribe how companies should control rainwater and erosion, but rather establish “the guidelines for best management practices during construction and post construction,” said Lauren Fraley, a spokeswoman for the DEP.
Costa Samaras, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said companies building energy infrastructure have to adhere to safety standards, but very few of the standards have been updated to account for how the climate is changing.
As a result, most new infrastructure isn’t designed to withstand the conditions it will face decades from now.
Take storm drains, for example.
The state says a drain has to handle a certain size storm, an engineer looks up how much average rainfall is associated with that storm in that spot and then determines how big the pipe has to be to carry that amount of water under a road. 
“The challenge is that that information is based on the rainstorms in the 20th century,” he said. “That is fine if the rain patterns don’t change, but the rain patterns are changing. And they’re going to continue to change. And there’s not a better way to do it except to make your pipe bigger than you thought it needed to be.”

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