By Theodora Filis
A series of natural gas explosions has raised questions about the safety of the nation’s gas pipelines – now more than 50 years old.
According the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), there are more than two million miles of pipelines in the US, delivering trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
The most devastating natural gas pipeline explosion occurred in September 2010, in San Bruno, CA when a 50-inch Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline, in a residential neighborhood, exploded and caused the death of eight people and injured fifty more. The resulting fires swept through the neighborhood, destroying 37 homes and damaging eight. The investigation found that the pipeline, installed in 1956, had numerous weld defects.
From 2005 to 2009 there was an average of 282 significant incidences involving pipelines in the US including an average of 51 injuries and 14 fatalities.
Pipeline failures are usually caused by excavations in the area of the pipeline. Pipelines are not installed in precise locations and it is easy for someone digging with a backhoe to hit one.
The other most common failure is due to corrosion either internal or external. That usually comes from a lack of proper inspection or failure to properly install the line or the introduction of contaminates into the pipeline during operation.
There are some failures due to improper safety features, pressure relief systems, poor quality welding, poor quality materials, operating at pressures in excess of the design pressure.
In February, the New York Times reported a natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Two nearby homes were leveled others were so severely damaged they required demolition. The gas dates back to 1928.
Natural gas is an energy source that is commonly used in homes for cooking, heating, and water heating. It is primarily composed of methane. (Methane is a highly flammable chemical compound consisting of one carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms.) Natural gas leaks can occur inside the home and increases the risk of fire or explosion.
Because methane, and therefore, natural gas, does not have any odor, the gas company adds a warning “rotten-egg” smell that can be easily detected by most people. However, people who have a diminished sense of smell may not be able to rely upon this. A gas detector can be an important tool to help protect you and your family.
Last month, the Pennsylvania State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an infrared video showing gasses being spewed out into the neighboring communities. These emissions cannot be seen by the naked eye, but the residents have been feeling the effects for years and are not at all surprised by the findings. Sore throat, headaches and nosebleeds are what nearby residents have been experiencing since hydraulic fracturing (fracking) began.
WTAE ABC Channel 4 in Pittsburgh aired a news story investigating the emissions from a Marcellus shale natural gas compressor station.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says it doesn't know exactly what is being emitted in this video, but it does know it isn't just steam – the State EPA took this footage 9 months before it was released to the public.