I believe there are three basic principles that should guide the routing and construction of pipelines that carry dangerous materials. I think the vast majority of people would agree with them. (In fact, they are so obvious that some readers will be amazed that they aren’t already required. Unfortunately, none of them are, at least not in Pennsylvania.) They are expressed in informal language below, but my hope is that they could be the basis for more formal regulations, ordinances, and laws.

I want to be clear that I am not opposed to pipelines that carry dangerous materials. I accept the need for overland transport of dangerous materials in several industries. I understand that properly-sited pipelines have fewer public-safety issues than trucks and, in many cases, than trains that might carry the same materials. So pipelines are often the appropriate transport system.

Here are three principles that should govern pipeline routing and construction:

  1. To the maximum extent possible, keep the pipeline route a safe distance from homes and gathering places. A reasonable basis for determining a “safe distance” could be the radius within which flammable materials would catch fire if there were a major leak followed by an immediate explosion. This distance should be defined along the entire proposed pipeline route. The routing of the pipeline should be done in such a way as to minimize the number of homes and gathering places (schools, churches, libraries, and businesses) with the safe distance.
  2. Notify and compensate those who might be endangered. All owners and occupants of homes and gathering places that are closer to the pipeline than the “safe distance” should be notified of this. The pipeline builder should obtain the informed consent of these owners and occupants. This process should involve compensation for the fact that the buildings are in the area of risk. (This is apart from any easement required for the right to use property that the pipeline crosses.) Owners and occupants of homes and points of assembly in the area of risk should be informed of the following: contents of the pipeline, risks presented by those contents, methods that will be used to monitor the pipeline for possible leakage, how those in the area of risk will be informed of leaks, what they should do in the event of a leak, and what to expect from local first responders. Sellers and real-estate agents should be required to notify subsequent buyers of the affected properties after the pipeline is built.
  3. Private land along the proposed route may not be arbitrarily taken through eminent domain. The utility involved must be required to go through a formal process and present a compelling argument that use of the land is necessary for the public interest. The property owner must have the ability to appeal the results of this process. Corporate profits and the employment of pipeline workers are not to be considered as “in the public interest”.