Oklahoma tornado: Energy dodges a bullet
A devastating Oklahoma tornado left a trail of destruction Monday. How and why did the state's vast oil and gas infrastructure emerge seemingly unscathed from the Oklahoma tornado?
Monday's deadly Oklahoma tornado has left relatively intact one of the state's biggest and fastest-growing industries: energy.Skip to next paragraph
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A boom in US oil and gas production is underway with drilling rigs, storage tanks, and pipelines increasingly dotting the country's landscape. Some of the development is taking place in and around so-called "tornado alley," an unofficial swath of much of Oklahoma that spills over into surrounding states most prone to tornadoes.
This may sound more worrying than it is. While hurricanes routinely disrupt offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf and elsewhere, inland, rigs, pipelines, and tanks are comparably unaffected by extreme weather – most of the time.
"I don't see a tornado disrupting our mass oil and gas delivery methods," Otto Lynch, a civil engineer who serves on the American Society of Civil Engineers' committee on America’s infrastructure, said in a telephone interview. "[Pipelines] are typically underground. The substations around the routes are very small, low profile, and very rigid. Unless a tornado hit directly, I don’t see an issue from the mass delivery standpoint."
Monday's twister wasn't too far from what could have been a direct hit. Oklahoma ranks fourth in natural gas production in the US. It's in fifth place for oil production. Just 75 miles northeast of the tornado's destructive path lies Cushing, Okla., which has served as a major oil and gas distribution hub for decades. It's also ground zero for the heated debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada through Nebraska and then to Cushing and Gulf refineries.
Monday's tornado had no impact on TransCanada facilities or construction in the area, according to Shawn Howard, a spokesman for the Canadian company, which is behind Keystone XL and is currently building a portion of the pipeline system from Cushing to Nederland, Texas.
Energy: Oklahoma is home to a major pipeline hub and ranks 11th in US energy production.
Environment: Above-ground energy infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather, making surrounding land vulnerable to spills.