Kinder Morgan rep at forum

It will be interesting to see if the representatives of Kinder Morgan, the company that wants to run a natural gas pipeline through parts of some of our communities, including Milford and Amherst, can do what is generally thought to be impossible: Prove a negative.

Someone at a March 23 forum in Amherst, at which Kinder Morgan representatives will answer questions form the public, will ask this:

“How can we be sure the pipeline is safe? How can we be sure it won’t leak? How can we be sure it won’t blow up?”

The answer to which is … Um …

Because no one – not Kinder Morgan, not any company with any product, a car company or an airplane manufacturer – can effectively answer that question beyond giving some anecdotal evidence, to wit:

“Because it never has.”

Yes, well, it would be nice if disaster never struck but in the entire history of natural gas pipelines, it has.

Wikipedia lists 11 explosions in 10 countries, including the United States, the last in Canada in 2014:

“On January 25, a TransCanada Corporation gas transmission pipeline exploded and burned, causing a natural gas shortage in Manitoba and parts of the United States.”

More to the point for the Amherst meeting is this from 2007:

“A crude oil pipeline owned and operated by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners was ruptured by an excavator digging a storm sewer trench in Burnaby, British Columbia.”

All right, the 2007 explosion, one could argue, was not the fault of the pipeline or the pipeline company and that’s a fair argument, and one could argue that excavating near a pipeline isn’t a brilliant idea, so perhaps we can ignore that one.

But in the 11 Wikipedia items, several of the explosions seem to have occurred for no such reason. They just happened.

Of course, given the fact that natural gas pipelines have been around for many decades, 11 explosions doesn’t, on the surface, seem like all that many but if you happen to live close to where it happened, well, that’s a bit different.

And many people in Amherst and Milford will be living close to a pipeline once it is installed. And we say “once it is” because we have little faith in our regulatory commissions and we haven’t really seen our political leaders stepping up to the plate the way they did in Massachusetts. Well, eastern Massachusetts. The folks closer to Boston managed to get the pipeline route changed. Oh, it still goes through western Massachusetts and that’s no surprise. The people out there have long complained that, compared to the big cities of eastern Mass., they have little clout. None, really. It’s like the difference between New Hampshire from Concord to the south and towns near the Canadian border. Good luck finding clout.

Now none of this is to say that what Kinder Morgan is proposing is inherently dangerous. Indeed, it is probable, given the constant advances of technology, that pipelines are much safer than they were even since last year and that nothing awful will happen.

But there we are, full circle: Go on, prove that negative.

You see, pipeline opponents can point to actual evidence of accidents. Kinder Morgan will have to point to “evidence” of the absence of accidents. That’s like saying, “Ships don’t sink because no ships sunk today.”

Unfortunately for Kinder Morgan, or any company, that’s not evidence. All they can offer is assurances that they will do everything they can to ensure that nothing will go wrong, that there will be no accidents, that they have taken and will take every precaution, that no backhoes will be allowed in the vicinity, that they will inspect constantly, that …

Well, you get the idea. All of those things they will do, we are sure.

But prove that negative?

We wish them luck.