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Editorial for June 4, 2009

Citizens have good reason to be deeply concerned about the proposed natural gas pipeline that would be routed through the Snowden area.

Williams/Northwest Pipeline is proposing to construct a 178-mile pipeline -- the "Blue Bridge Pipeline Project" -- that would run east-west from Washougal, in Clark County, to Plymouth, in Benton County. The route cuts straight across Klickitat County.

We don't question the need for a new pipeline to bring natural gas to the area. Natural gas is an essential resource for a growing region, and a key part of a diverse "energy portfolio." It is also cleaner than many energy sources.

The issue boils down to the route being mapped out. Keeping the pipeline as far away from residences as possible is essential to minimize risks and impacts. With this in mind, a new line should not be built through the Snowden area.

In the state of Washington, there have been at least two major gas pipeline explosions in recent years. One was very close to here, in the North Bonneville area of Skamania County. A landslide ruptured a pipeline in February 1999, and the blast and resulting fire created a terrifying roaring sound and lit up the night sky for miles around. Flames shot 250 feet into the air, and the fire was reportedly visible as far off as Goldendale -- 70 miles away. Fortunately, no one was injured in that incident, although there was property damage. And we were very lucky this incident did not happen during the summer fire season.

Then, in June 1999 near Bellingham, a valve failure and a resulting pressure surge led to a pipeline explosion, sending a fireball down a creek. Tragically, two 10-year-old boys playing near the creek were killed, as was an 18-year-old man in the area.

Those accidents were "highly unlikely."

We realize explosions are extremely rare, and everything humanly possible is done to prevent any problems. Yet at the same time, who would want to see infrastructure being built near their homes that could -- at any time and without warning -- turn into a bomb? Sure, that is a worst-case scenario -- but it has happened.

For most of the proposed route, the new pipeline would follow an existing pipeline corridor. Only in two places does the route of the new line veer substantially away from the current line: Near Major Creek, where it would cut north from the existing pipeline for a few miles, going through the Snowden area; and the entire distance between Willard and Washougal, where the new route would run several miles north of the existing pipeline.

Opponents of the pipeline route have offered what seems to be the common sense solution to this controversy: the Blue Bridge Pipeline should stay within the existing right of way. With an east-west pipeline already in place, this approach would sharply reduce impacts, and ease the need for right of way acquisitions.

Williams/Northwest Pipeline engineers contend there are technical problems with this concept in a few locations. They say it would not be feasible to place a new pipeline across Major Creek due to "environmental laws and safety standards" -- even though there is a pipeline there now.

Certainly, however, pipeline technology and construction methods have vastly improved since that original line was built in the 1950s. It might cost more money, but we find it difficult to believe an engineering solution cannot be found. (And if it cannot be found, then we would question how the pipeline in place there now -- if it is truly unsafe -- could be allowed to remain.)

On June 10 at 7 p.m., Williams/Northwest Pipeline will host an open house at the Pioneer Center in White Salmon. It's important for local residents to turn out and politely express their views.



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