“About every other day, a natural gas leak in the United States has destroyed property, hurt someone or killed someone. The leaks and the resulting fires and explosions have killed at least 135 people, injured 600 and caused $2 billion in damages since 2004. One factor common to the most destructive blasts is aging gas pipes. Tens of thousands of miles of these old pipes remain under cities across the country.”
With those ominous words, USA Today introduces its new special report entitled “Look Out Below: Danger Lurks From Aging Gas Pipes”. The report highlights numerous fires and explosions that have occurred during the normal delivery of natural gas to millions of U.S. homes and businesses. “Leaking gas accumulating in buildings, basements and crawl spaces — if ignited — can explode with a force akin to a small but concentrated earthquake. The rapidly expanding pressure can blow out windows, roofs and support beams, collapsing buildings in an instant,” USA Today writes.
The report states that cast iron pipelines are the most likely to cause dangerous explosions. “About 83% of cast-iron mains are in 10 states, mostly in the Northeast. More than half the iron pipe is operated by just 10 utilities,” the report states. “And one-third of it is buried in and around New York, Boston and Detroit.”
Nine of the 10 local gas utilities that operate the most cast-iron mains far exceeded the average rate for hazardous gas leaks in 2013. “Three gas utilities, serving the New York and Philadelphia regions, reported hazardous leak rates more than 10 times the national average,” USA Today reported. “Those utilities have a longer road to replacing all of their aging mains than the country as a whole. Pipes in crowded cities are harder to retrofit because of the cost and disruption to everyday life,” the article states.
In New York City and suburban Westchester County, Consolidated Edison and National Grid reported about 8,400 hazardous gas leaks on their mains in 2013. “More than half of the region’s pipes were installed before 1970,” the article states. “And, about half of the gas mains are made from cast iron or unprotected steel — about seven times the national average of 7% for those vulnerable materials.” Con Ed estimates the cost of replacing its share of the aging pipes at $10 billion.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration lacks the authority to require utilities to replace their old lines, according to USA Today. States are enacting new laws that will enable utilities to pass on to ratepayers the costs of upgrading their systems.
The special report includes an interactive map that readers can use to see natural gas pipeline incidents is in their neighborhoods.
Other features of the special report include:
• A secret list that identifies high-risk natural gas service areas;
• An interview with a natural gas pipeline expert who says that every leak is a potential accident waiting to happen;
• A look at the New York City Metropolitan Area, which is a hot spot for natural gas risks.
To read the USA Today special report, click here.