CT Gas Power Plant Explosion Reminds Fossil Fuels are Deadly

Area fire and ambulance crews arrive near the scene in Middletown, Conn., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. Multiple people have died in an explosion at a power plant in Connecticut and an unknown number of people are injured. (AP Photo/Richard Messina, Hartford Courant)

This morning, at 11:30 am, Middletown’s Kleen Energy Power Plant suffered a major explosion,  believed to be when a gas line caught fire during testing. Friends who work at the plant said that there were 50 – 100 construction workers, engineers, and plant managers who were inside. As of 12 pm, Middletown firefighters had only found 9 individuals. Since then, five* have been reported dead, with casualties and injuries expected to be many more. Firefighters from around the state came into the plant, with Hartford and Boston’s search-and-rescue teams both coming to Middletown to help clear the wreckage and free workers still stuck inside.

Workers at the plant were working long shifts, trying to finish the plant on a tight schedule. Matthew Lesser, Middletown’s representative to state government, said, “As I understand it, they were testing a gas line when the explosion took place but we’re not sure. Our first priority is making sure that everyone there is safe.”

I live about 5 miles away from this power plant, and felt my house shake from the explosion. The nearby Connecticut Valley Hospital had windows blown out from the explosion, and while most nearby homes had little damage done, nearby towns like mine are making house calls to reassure our communities that we are still safe. In Durham’s town store, the sidewalks and our skating pond, people shared the news they were receiving from our volunteer firefighters, from friends who were supposed to have gone into work, and from friends living nearby the plant.

Fossil fuels are not safe. They are not safe for our planet, they are not safe for our communities, and they are not safe for the workers inside of their power plants. This is not the first power plant explosion, this will not be the last. It is time for America to commit to a clean and safe energy economy – where our friends and neighbors can work in green jobs that give good wages and safe working environments. My heart and prayers are with the workers at the Kleen Energy Plant and with their families — and with the future of our nation to not face such a tragedy again.

25 Responses to “CT Gas Power Plant Explosion Reminds Fossil Fuels are Deadly”

  1. 1 nickengelfried Feb 7th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    This tragic event should serve as a reminder that natural gas can be as damaging as any other fossil fuel. As the gas industry has proposed the building of giant pipelines for imported liquefied natural gas in Oregon, they’ve continually assured us that gas is “safe.” Today should serve as a reminder to people across the country that natural gas is not a safe fuel, and building gas infrastructure near our homes, schools, and communities is dangerous business.

  2. 2 Sute Feb 7th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Yes, we all know that fossil fuels can be dangerous. We’ve known that for decades.

    But don’t pretend your concern is for the people or community. Many of them probably believe that the way we produce energy now is the best way until alternative energy and alternative energy companies catch up and start hiring Americans, and not cheaper foreign contractors, to do the work. In reality, if it were up to you (and many misinformed hyper-environmentalists), you’d have this power plant shut down immediately and leave the people who work there without a job or reliable income to support their families. Because, to you, earth comes first and seem to have no care about the financial effects on hard-working people. AKA the “break a few eggs” saying. Especially if they disagree with you an environmental issues.

  3. 3 nickengelfried Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Here’s a little more info about natural gas’ deadly history: Just a little over ten years ago, a gas pipeline explosion in the Northwest killed three people tragically. US Senator Parry Murray then commendably introduced legislation to reduce the risk of pipeline explosions. But as we’ve seen today, this hasn’t eliminated the very real dangers of natural gas, or other fossil fuels like coal and oil. There’s an article on the 1999 Washington explosion at http://murray.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=314195

    As energy companies rush to build new gas plants, we must remember that natural gas is a dangerous substance. As the industry embraces technologies like LNG (liquefied natural gas), the potential for catastrophe and huge loss of human life is only likely to increase. Here’s a link to Columbia Riverkeeper’s take on the dangers of importing LNG off our coasts (scroll down the page to the second large heading): http://www.columbiariverkeeper.org/index.php/lng/natural_resources

    Finally, a disaster like this transcends the political boundaries of liberal versus conservative. We can all agree that losing human lives to a gas explosion is unacceptable, whether due to an accident like today’s, or as a result of a terrorist attack. Here’s what Fox News has to say about the risks from LNG gas tankers: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,142133,00.html

  4. 4 rmarg Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I lived in CT for seven years and spent some time in Middletown. While not a big fan of natural gas (it is a valuable chemical feedstock that we should not be burning), it is one of the lesser risk fossil fuels. If you think about how many people have gas in their homes vs the small number of explosions, fires, etc caused by gas. There is NO safe energy of any kind: all forms of energy cause deaths and injury. People have been killed in the solar and wind industries as well. What would be interesting to see is a per unit energy comparison among the sources. I have seen older studies (e.g., Herb Inhaber’s 1982 book Risk Assessment), but nothing too recent that included renewables.

  5. 5 Kandi Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    My thoughts and prayers are with those that were working in the plant and also with their families and friends. I’m from Fort Berthold in North Dakota where many accidents have occurred due to oil drilling causing everything from limbs being lost, to long-term health issues to death. Our natural gas is currently all being flared. Whether it is oil, gas, coal, uranium or other types of mining, there are costs beyond money that are seldom taken into account when looking at the Cost/Benefit Analysis. I wonder if the Kleen Energy Power Plant, which isn’t even online yet, had taken accidents like this one into account, and to what extent, in their Cost/Benefit analysis. Not only are many people’s lives that work in these industries immediately in danger, they also face the long term consequences to their health and the health of the environment where these industries are located. The true costs of having these industries are rarely, if ever, taken into account. If they were, the costs would outweigh the benefits. This is particularly true given the technology we have to use renewable forms of energy like solar and wind. Even with this technology we predominately continue to rely on dirty, dangerous, polluting forms of energy like nuclear, oil, coal, gas and other forms of mining to fuel our excessive use. Instead, we should be looking at creative ways of becoming less energy intensive in the first place and we should use the renewable technologies we already have, like solar and wind, to move us in that direction. I hope and pray that more people are discovered alive at the gas plant in Middletown, CT and I hope and pray that this nations leaders start to admit how horrific the fossil fuel industry truly is and begin to make the decisions we need to move away from our reliance on it.

  6. 6 rmarg Feb 7th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    I think that Kandi’s point is why we need to look at dangers from a per unit energy perspective. Even if you reduce energy use, you will still have to choose from energy sources that present some danger. Certainly we need to find ways to improve mining and mineral processing safety where we can.

  7. 7 Tommaso Feb 7th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    My thoughts to the workers at the natural gas facility. They are but the most recent casualty in a long history of fossil-fuel caused deaths.

    This story needs to be known to more people. Thank you for writing such touching first-hand account.

  8. 8 Caroline Howe Feb 8th, 2010 at 1:42 am

    I just wanted to update to say that at least five casualties have been named from this account.

    I appreciate all of the comments sharing other ways that humans have been impacted, and some of the direct responses I’ve received. Many have asked how they can help, and I will post some of those answers as soon as I hear from any friends in emergency services what is needed. Those of you in Connecticut, your direct support of the families can definitely be helpful. Others, your thoughts, prayers and support are needed.

    To those who have sent me direct response saying I am callous or want there to be fewer jobs in Connecticut in pursuit of a green economy — I have to disagree! I know that there will be more jobs available – cleaner, greener, *truly safer* jobs – if we, the Connecticut consumers along with the Connecticut government, were to invest in energy efficiency, building retrofit programs, solar credits, and even proposed wind energy farms than any clean energy projects.

    I have classmates and friends who work in the Middletown plant and others like it. My heart truly goes out to them and those who lost their lives today, and I genuinely wish for a clean energy economy to protect them and others like them – in mines, in power plants, in LNG tankers – who work those jobs because it is all they have and not because they support the energy system we currently rely on.

  9. 9 Caroline Howe Feb 8th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I really appreciated Josh’s blog, which you can find an incredible set of stories of other “Safety Hazards of Various Energy Sources” – check it out at http://enviroknow.com/2010/02/08/safety-hazards-associated-with-different-energy-sources/

  10. 10 rmarg Feb 8th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I worked in CT for seven years and know many folks in the pwoer industry up there. Certainly, a tragic accident and hard times for their families.

    I just checked out the link on energy safety. There are safety and environmental effects of solar and wind:

    1) Manufacture of PV cells require arsenic and/or cadmium which are toxic heavy metals. The Washington Post discussed the pollution problems in China from their manufacture.

    2) Both solar and wind devices require more structural materials as they need to cover a large area to collect the same energy vs conventional power plants.

    3) Workers have been killed during construction of renewable energy facilities.


    As I said previously, I have not seen recent per unit energy risk comparisons. Those I have seen (circa 1990s) actually have a wide error band, though they generally show coal the most dangerous.

  11. 11 Dave Feb 8th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    I’m going to call a spade a spade here: you folks are absolutely clueless (except for Rmarg, who was gentle to you.)
    First, it’s unconscionable to politicize the deaths of these 5 people to support your agenda. you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Second, The processes used to fire natural gas, and the safety risks, are no different than that associated with renewable fuels. Many knowledgeable environmentalists, (including those working with Pres. Obama, see the BCAP program) are pushing the use of biomass for power generation. Are you aware that gasified biomass creates volatiles very similar to NG: and certainly those gases have the same potential for explosion? Are you aware that in order to separate various chemicals out of biomass (to take the place of crude oil as a base stock in a biorefinery), it is part of the process to use special boilers that can easily blow up: even more so than fossil fueled ones? To your misinformed point that there are no health risks associated with solar, wind, or geothermal. Do you know how the glass is heated up and formed in the process of making PV panels? Do you understand the volumes and source of the required energy for those processes? Can you explain what happens should you have a MOLTEN sodium leak in a high pressure collective tower solar generator? Do you even understand the risks associated purifying elemental sodium, much less the operational requirements and dangers of using it in a solar generator? Are you aware of how dangerous the steel coking process is and its contribution to wind turbines? Do you know that the dangers in that process are 2-500x greater for making wind turbines than one “normal” sized conventionally fired power plant? Are you aware the origin of polyester and vinyl ester resins used to make wind turbine blades is crude oil? Do you have a clue how dangerous these compounds can be if mishandled?

    I’m not saying any of these technologies is wrong: only that ALL forms of energy production have their own inherant risks that must be taken into account as a facility is engineered, built, and operated. Fossil fueled power plants are no more deadly than their renewable brethren: the fundamental physics and engineering principles in play are exactly the same. You are quoting headlines when 99.5%+ of electricity comes from fossil fuel sources. When (note the use of the word “when”) renewable fuels accounts for a majority, the headlines will switch to a majority of accidents caused by renewable sources.

    Please think outside your insulated, little box: your ignorance is obvious. You clearly have much to learn before casting stones.

    For A specific renewable disaster example, look up the major hydro facility disaster in Western Russia last year: it makes Josh’s examples look like tinker toys.

  12. 12 Juliana Williams Feb 9th, 2010 at 2:18 am

    This accident was a tragedy. Plain and simple.

    But it is important to learn from the experience – it did not happen in a vacuum. Reflecting on the risks of natural gas is not politicization, it’s taking a hard look at the causes of these deaths so that we understand how and why this happened.

    As the United States makes a headlong rush into expanding natural gas facilities, it is vital to take the safety concerns into account. Yes, all forms of energy have their drawbacks, but it ultimately comes down three things – longevity of the energy source, the risks and impacts for that source, and ultimately a value judgment that we are willing to take on those risks.

    Natural gas is a finite resource. By definition it is not renewable.

    Natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels, but it is not _the_ answer to our energy challenge. There is no single energy source that will save the day, but we should also take a more critical look at the known risks of natural gas.

    Finally, there is a value judgment to make. How much risk are we willing to accept? Distributed, smaller risks from small scale renewable energy, or concentrated but very infrequent large scale accidents. It’s also a value judgment on where we want the direction of our country’s energy use to go – what will our future look like? Hopefully it will not include any more terrible accidents like the one that happened in Connecticut.

  13. 13 rmarg Feb 9th, 2010 at 11:12 am

    One qualitative note on small distributed risks: they can add up when brought to scale. Autombiles have a small individual risk, but they kill over 30,000 in the US each year. I am not advocating banning cars, just that small risks can multiply with scale.

  14. 14 Dave Feb 9th, 2010 at 2:50 pm


    I agree with 90% of what you wrote but need to take a few exceptions.

    As you indicate, it is not only important, I say critical, to learn from prior accidents such as this. Actually, I was trying to get more information about this particular accident, to learn whatever I could at this early stage, when I came across this website. Discussing the risks and learning from prior accidents in an independent, fact-based manner is always appropriate. (It’s the main technique I’ve used to keep my co-workers safe for my entire career.) But that is not path this article took, and no one can argue otherwise. Let’s review the quote,
    “Fossil fuels are not safe. They are not safe for our planet, they are not safe for our communities, and they are not safe for the workers inside of their power plants. This is not the first power plant explosion, this will not be the last. It is time for America to commit to a clean and safe energy economy – where our friends and neighbors can work in green jobs that give good wages and safe working environments.”
    That is politicized prose. It assumes that “green jobs” will always be “safe”. Its purpose is to equate injuries and death solely with fossil fuels and suggest that all green energy will always be in “safe working environments.” It is disengenuous at best; a politicized, self-serving lie, using the lives of 5 people without consent, at worst.

    No where did I say that NG is renewable; no where did I indicate that NG is a long term answer. My only point, made rather harshly I’ll admit, is that the viewpoint professed is one borne of ignorance because all sources of energy, including renewables, have associated risks that must be dealt with.

    You’re right of course, there is a value judgment to be made. We must make those judgments based on facts and not with the rhetoric of this article and some its supporting comments.

    Finally, in support of Rmarg’s last comment, you are falling into a common trap. Every plane crash is reported widely, but 1000 people a year dying in commercial aviation is an AWFUL year. There have been many years with no deaths. Tragic reports of families being wiped out in car accidents are not widely reported. And yet most people believe that flying is more dangerous than driving. The trap is that everyone hears about plane crashes, very few about car fatalites; thus, without adequate information, our brain incorrectly weighs the risks and develops the wrong conclusion.

    Links to Russian hydro disaster: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57G3OQ20090817


  15. 15 Dave Feb 9th, 2010 at 2:57 pm


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About Caroline

Caroline Howe explores how to get more people excited about sustainability, through education, new technology, financial tools, and community engagement. She's particularly passionate about engaging young people in developing community based solutions to environmental challenges. This has taken her to five continents, working with her start-up, Loop Solutions, as well as with NGOs, youth groups, companies, UN agencies, and a ton of fantastic youth leaders.

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