Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy) | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Gas pipes made of wood? Bill Maher's claim is outdated

The statement

"Do you know that we have pipes carrying natural gas in this country that are made of wood? I'm not joking."

Bill Maher, in a Sept. 14 interview on CNN's Larry King Live

The ruling

When a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, Calif., on Sept. 9, comedian Bill Maher brought up an issue we would have never thought to raise.

Are there really wood pipes for natural gas in use today?

The heyday of wood pipelines — if there ever was one — came more than a century ago. They are never installed today, and only rarely are old sections unearthed. When that happens, it's by accident. Officials from both the Association of Oil Pipelines (which represents the petroleum pipeline industry) and the American Gas Association (which represents natural gas companies) said that, on occasion, routine maintenance digs sometimes unearth old sections of wood pipe. Typically, the wood pipe simply lies next to active lines made of more modern materials.

About a decade ago in Pennsylvania, an active wood pipeline was found encased in clay and incorrectly marked in utility records, said Jennifer Kocher, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

We suspect that this episode is the source of Maher's claim.

A Sept. 14 Associated Press story written in the wake of the San Bruno disaster said that "a few places in Pennsylvania still had wooden gas pipes as of last year, according to officials there." The AP stands behind its reporting, but that part of the story is in dispute.

Kocher told PolitiFact that she was interviewed a year ago by AP but that the article didn't quote her accurately. Kocher said she told the reporter the story of the wood pipe discovered 10 years ago, but she also emphasized that no wood pipe has been found since and that none is believed to be in use today.

Kocher told PolitiFact that there is no known wood pipe being used in Pennsylvania. That conclusion was seconded by Terry Fitzpatrick, president of the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, which represents electric and natural gas utilities.

Rick Kessler, vice president of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an independent advocacy group, told PolitiFact that his group has not been able to verify that there are wood pipes in use. Kessler said the idea verges on being an urban myth.

It's impossible to prove conclusively that there is no wood pipe currently in use without exposing 2 million-plus miles of natural gas pipe. Since the burden of proof for the Truth-O-Meter falls on the speaker, we rate Maher's claim False.

Edited for print. For more, go to

PolitiFact: Gas pipes made of wood? Bill Maher's claim is outdated 09/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2010 7:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Provocateur targets CNN with hidden camera video while Trump takes another swipe


    NEW YORK —A conservative provocateur posted a video Tuesday of a man identified as a CNN producer commenting on his network's coverage of President Donald Trump and connections to Russia.

    Anthony Scaramucci, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. [Associated Press]
  2. Shakira coming to the Amway Center in Orlando


    Don't lie, Shakira. Not your hips, not your lips, not anything. Tell us: Why won't you come back to Tampa?

  3. Jameis Winston held his pro day at Florida State's indoor practice facility. His pro team will be getting one soon.
  4. Where to see Fourth of July fireworks across Tampa Bay


    Looking for Independence Day fireworks shows in the Tampa Bay area? There are plenty of options, including the massive shows in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey, as well as smaller shows across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Sarasota counties.

    Fireworks explode with color over the Nature Coast Freedom Festival in Hernando County. There will be a variety of fireworks displays across the Tampa Bay area for the Fourth of July in 2017. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2009)]
  5. PolitiFact takes on big health care question: Does GOP bill cut Medicaid?


    Politics and math don't always get along, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway raised a common complaint about how people talk about the future of Medicaid spending under the Senate Republican health care bill.

    Alice Jacobs, 90, at Dogwood Village, a nonprofit county-owned nursing home in Orange, Va., on June 23. Medicaid, targeted by Republicans' health care bill, pays for most of the 1.4 million elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom do not know they are on it. (Khue Bui/The New York Times)