|Millennium pipeline, 2008 in Candor NY|
There are about twenty interstate natural gas pipeline systems crisscrossing the region from West Virginia to Maine – and that number is growing as gas drilling operations expand. New wells need lines to get their gas to existing pipelines, and as more gas is produced even more pipelines will be needed to transport gas to market.
But pipelines do more that transport existing gas to market; they create potential drill zones. Ask any NY landowner coalition and they’ll tell you that the first Marcellus wells will be drilled close to the Millennium pipeline. These pipelines are a key to future development, says Tom Wilber.
The other thing with pipelines is that no matter where you put them, people will eventually end up living near them. And that, says Meghan Thoreau, is a problem. Thoreau, a planner with Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, says that most pipelines were originally constructed in rural areas. But towns and suburbs expanded, encroaching on the pipelines.
Poor planning resulted in pipelines running beneath back yards – places where, over time, people (and planners) forget about them. As the area develops roads expand and communities may erect sound barriers that cut off access to those pipelines. Residents may build fences, place pools or plant trees that interfere with access to a pipeline. All of that building cuts off access to the pipelines – access critical to maintain and repair the lines. And that is a disaster waiting to happen.
“Land use planning and development has a direct impact on pipeline safety,” Thoreau says. She recommends that local governments adopt transmission pipeline zoning ordinances and other practices that would safeguard their citizens. But she cautions that “unless those recommendations are in your regulations, there is no way to ensure that they will be followed.”