Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sunbury Pipeline Safe? Magical Thinking

The following op-ed was printed in the Jan. 19, 2015 edition of the Daily Item.  The link is here, and the full text is below:
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Prominent voices in the Susquehanna Valley (Central Pennsylvania) have touted the proposed “Sunbury Pipeline” as a boon for new businesses, jobs, and “affordable, accessible” energy from shale gas.  The same arguments are made for pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline.  Like most misleading arguments, there is a bit of truth that seduces us into wanting to believe these projects are a good idea. What these voices have overlooked or may not be aware of are the serious short-term and long-term costs that will accompany these pipelines.  These are not just risks. Pipelines have a history of documented damage that pose a threat here as well. 

For example, in our Valley, home and business owners with the pipeline buried underneath are at risk for loss of property value, refusal of insurance due to liability, and loss of resale potential.  Residents near the compressor stations along the route will be exposed to methane and other noxious gases due to leaks and routine venting, not to mention explosions.  The river’s ecosystem and those who rely on its drinking water will be subjected to incalculable risk when (not if) the pipeline ruptures or leaks.
  When all of this is taken into account, it becomes apparent that the pipeline is, in fact, a bad idea for the Valley, its residents and the river.

A recent editorial expressed confidence that despite the risks of running the pipeline beneath the river, environmental safety can be attained by maintaining a transparent process overseen by the Department of Environmental Protection.  This argument rests on the premise that the DEP is trustworthy, reliable, well-staffed, non-partisan, and proactive in protecting the environment.  And that the companies involved have the best interest of the environment and public health in mind, putting them before profit.  In my experience with DEP and the companies involved with the proposed White Deer tire incinerator, which was shelved a year ago, and with the shale gas industry over the past several years, such assumptions and trust are misplaced.  This is an example of “magical thinking” which leads people to believe that their thoughts will make something come true.  We may wish and hope and trust that very little will go wrong with this pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL, and convince ourselves and others of the same.  But when the disasters happen, all of our magical thinking fails us.  Even with best of intentions, human error would be too costly.

And it’s not just the Valley that will pay the price for this pipeline.  The methane that leaks from the fracking sites and through the pipelines, compressor stations and in the power plant itself are a more potent form of greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20-year period.  Harvard scientist Naomi Oreskes has pointed out that this is the very timeframe when we need to decrease our use of fossil fuels to curtail the climate feedback cycle that is leading to serious planetary problems.
Bottom line – the gas must stay in the ground.  But here we are in the Valley running full tilt toward more infrastructure for the cancer of the shale gas industry to metastasize yet again.

This Valley is too precious to leave to chance, human error and magical thinking.  Let’s not be misled.  At the very least, we need to have environmental scientists, naturalists, and other researchers study these plans in detail and tell us what the risks are.  We need to look at other instances of pipelines that have been dug underneath rivers to learn what problems they’ve had. It’s irresponsible for our leaders to tout this as such a good thing for the Valley while overlooking or making light of the threats.  If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

New businesses and jobs are a good thing.  And we need energy for our electricity needs. But let’s welcome businesses that are on the forefront of the clean energy sector (solar, wind and geothermal) that will provide stable, well-paying, long-term jobs in the Valley without damaging our properties, health and river. 

Schade is the pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in Lewisburg, an ethics instructor at Lebanon Valley College, and was a leader of the Tire Burner Team.  She is the author of the forthcoming book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecological Theology and Homiletics (Chalice Press).


  1. Thanks! I 'm glad I discovered this article after listening to you on Climate Stew 18. Although I'm not a resident of the Susquehanna Valley, what you write is mostly applicable verbatim to my home, the Lehigh Valley, where there are imminent plans to build a new pipeline which will traverse both (!) of our rivers, and to replace a compressor station on an older pipeline with one that is 5 times as powerful.

  2. John, thank you for your comment. I appreciate your taking a moment to reach out and share your response to the Climate Stew podcast, as well as this editorial. But I am very disturbed to hear about the pipelines proposed in your area. I'd be interested to hear about what kind of grassroots efforts are going on in your community to oppose the pipeline and compressor station (if any). If you'd like to email me to talk more in-depth, you can reach me at interfaithsacredearthcoalition@gmail.com.

  3. Dear Pastor Schade:

    I especially appreciate how you never lose sight of the need for good jobs at decent wages as a key part of the overall solution for the problem of climate disruption driven by global warming. We have to come together and go the extra mile to build an economy of equitable opportunity for everyone, including and especially our young veterans of - and victims of - military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Good jobs in clean energy fields are the engine that can pull our little peace train of a climate change movement here in central PA. That's how I see it, anyway. BTW, I hope to get to meet you on 2/16 at the PCC UCC Green Justice Team meeting in Selinsgrove that Marty Blessing has organized. Sincerely - John Bechtel

  4. John - Thank you for your comment. We are definitely in agreement about jobs and the clean-energy economy. There are so many opportunities that our country and local community could initiate if only there was the will and the foresight. My dream is to see a solar-energy panel plant set up here in the area, or another related industry. We have a very good workforce in this area - let's put them to work on jobs that will power us without hurting the environment and public health!

  5. I really appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge.The topic here i found was really effective to the topic which i was researching for a long time . epoxy pipe lining


Thank you for your comment. If approved after review, it will be posted on the site.