April 30--It could happen here.
That's the one thing a local anti-drilling activist and a spokesman for a major energy company agree on regarding Friday's natural gas pipeline explosion near Pittsburgh.
They differ on how likely it is to happen, however.
"When these things happen they are very dramatic and get a lot of attention, but they are very rare," said Chris Stockton, spokesman for Williams Companies Inc., the Texas-based Fortune 500 company that provides about one-third of the natural gas consumed in Pennsylvania.
Scott Cannon, of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, says Friday's explosion -- which a firefighter at the scene described as "like looking down into hell" -- proves that any gas pipeline placed in a populated area poses an inherent danger.
"It just goes to show you these natural gas pipelines are not safe," Cannon said. "There are always risks involved, especially in a residential area."
Cannon, of Plymouth, cited a proposed Penn East natural gas pipeline that would run through parts of Luzerne County -- from the Back Mountain to Bear Creek Township -- as a potential disaster waiting to happen.
That pipeline, which has drawn fierce opposition from anti-drilling activists, would run near and through old mine shafts and blasting quarries that date from the peak of the mining industry, some of them poorly mapped, Cannon said.
If something were to spark an explosion near a populated area, people could die, he said.
He noted that the man whose home was destroyed in Friday's explosion "was very lucky to get out of that house."
Stockton said safety is always the highest priority for Williams Companies.
"If you look at the statistics, pipelines are the safest, most efficient way to transport energy," he said.
"If an incident occurs, we work with emergency officials," he added. "If there is a failure we can shut off the line and get the situation under control as soon as possible."
Friday's incident will likely inspire even more opposition to gas drilling and pipelines in the Wyoming Valley and throughout the state, according to Cannon.
"It's another wake-up call," he said.
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