"Gas 'dissipates' -- or it may explodeIt is a sad irony that less than a week after Westcoast Energy employees downplayed any danger from a natural gas pipeline across South Whidbey Island, a tragedy in New Mexico laid waste those comforting words.The few islanders who attended last Wednesday's meeting in Bayview on the Orca Natural Gas Pipeline proposal were told that natural gas poses virtually no risk. If the pipeline should ever spring a leak, the gas would simply dissipate in to the air, or, if the leak occurred under water, it would bubble to the surface before dissipating.What the Westcoast Energy representatives didn't mention is that if that dissipating gas should somehow meet up with a spark or a flame, all hell could break loose. We've seen it several times in recent years in this state, but fortunately with no loss of life (the 1999 Bellingham disaster was caused by liquid gasoline). But reports of huge flaming plumes of natural gas are not uncommon.A real natural gas tragedy struck near Carlsbad, N.M., on Saturday when an underground pipeline ruptured and exploded, killing 10 people, including several children, who were camping alongside a river. The heat reportedly was so intense that it turned sand into glass and concrete into powder.Most islanders are keeping an open mind about the Orca Natural Gas Pipeline. It's still in the early planning stages and many more meetings are sure to follow if it gets the go-ahead. But next time Westcoast Energy officials appear on the island, we don't want more condescending palliatives about how safe natural gas is. We want to know the real risk and exactly what will be done to minimize it. We will remember what happened on Aug. 19, 2000 in New Mexico.MADD leaves behind a voidIn Island County, Mothers Against Drunk Driving were never large in numbers, but they fought valiantly to get their message across -- especially to teenagers. The announcement this month that MADD is disbanding here was bad news to all who care about the safety of their loved ones.Although based in Oak Harbor, MADD had a strong presence in all three Whidbey Island high schools, sponsoring scholarships in memory of students who lost their lives to people who were driving while under the influence of alcohol. MADD also presented educational assemblies, often using the families of victims to get their message across effectively. MADD also honored local police officers for stopping drunk drivers and undertook many other activities to raise awareness about drunk drivers.MADD was a worthy cause that fell victim to a combination of public apathy and the general feeling that there is always someone else who will volunteer and do the work. As MADD's unfortunate demise indicates, this isn't always the case. Even when the cause is outstanding, without willing volunteers that cause will not prosper.The absence of MADD leaves a hole in the community that will not be easily filled. We need dedicated people to drive home the message that alcohol and driving do not mix because this deadly combination is the biggest killer of our young people. The message is too important to abandon even though, sadly, MADD is gone. "

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