Ky. Voices: Stopping pipeline can't make us safer

Joseph P. Straley is the Provost's Distinguished Service Professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Kentucky.
Joseph P. Straley is the Provost's Distinguished Service Professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Kentucky.

The proposed natural gas liquids pipeline has been the subject of many letters and commentaries in the Herald-Leader. Some of these try to convince you that fracking is an evil technology. But actually fracking is saving you money and saving lives. Specifically:

■ The advent of fracking has decreased the cost of natural gas by over a factor of two and helped power the economic recovery. Energy independence has been a national goal for 40 years; this technology is the first to actually decrease our dependence on imported fuels.

■ Extraction industries are never going to be pretty, but drilling for gas is a lot easier on the environment than coal mining.

■ Natural gas burns cleanly, without sending small particles or mercury into the environment. Making electricity from gas improves health by improving air quality, and produces half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal .

So how do natural gas liquids enter the picture, and why do they need to be transported?

NGL are byproducts of natural gas production. They are largely a mixture of small hydrocarbon molecules such as ethane, propane, and butane. They could be used as fuel replacing natural gas or gasoline (it mainly requires adjustment of the air mixture), but have a greater value as a raw material for the chemical industries.

The purpose of the pipeline is to move them from where they are found to where they are needed, so that we can still make something in America.

NGL have low boiling temperatures, so that a spill will evaporate much more rapidly than a fuel oil spill. They are significantly less toxic to the environment (and people) than gasoline or crude oil. If you are concerned about the toxicity of NGL, you should be working to ban propane gas grills, because the tanks for these are already exposing you to propane.

There are many pipelines carrying gas, oil and NGL in the United States. They are a safe and cost-effective means for long-distance transport.

It's pointless to discuss the safety of the NGL pipeline without discussing the alternatives.

Crude oil is being transported by train in Canada because they lack a pipeline; this summer a village was incinerated when a train ran off the tracks. NGL is being shipped in the U.S. by train, too, as well as by truck over shorter distances. There might be a tank car or tanker truck carrying NGL through Lexington right now.

How is opposing the pipeline making us safer?

At issue: Various commentary critical of plans for a Bluegrass Pipeline