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September 27th, 2011:

New Gas Pipeline Safety Concerns Arise

American Energy Coalition - September 27th, 2011

Two new concerns about natural gas pipeline safety have been reported in the news. In California, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that regulators have not pursued their concerns about a commonly used type of gas pipe that could be unsafe. 

Meanwhile in Seattle, Wash., utility crews have found three natural gas leaks in a neighborhood where a gas explosion occurred on September 26, 2011, that injured two people, according to a Seattle Times report

In the California story, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the type of plastic pipe that caused a natural gas explosion and fire in a Cupertino condominium in August 2011 has long been considered a potential threat to the public, but federal pipeline regulators have allowed companies to keep it in the ground and secretly gather limited information about its failings. 

Companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), which owns the line that caused the Cupertino blast, don't have to routinely report what they know about failure rates of particular brands of plastic pipes, even to the federal and state agencies that regulate pipeline operators, the Chronicle reports. The federal government, bowing to industry resistance, has never required it. 

The Cupertino condominium was gutted Aug. 31 after a plastic pipeline fitting cracked, filling the garage with gas that exploded just minutes after the owner had left for lunch, according to the Chronicle. PG&E later found six other plastic pipe failures near the blast site. 

The line was an especially problematic type of pipe manufactured by DuPont called Aldyl-A. PG&E has 1,231 miles of the early-1970s-vintage pipe in its system. Federal regulators singled out pre-1973 Aldyl-A starting in 2002 as being at risk of failing because of premature cracking, according to the Chronicle. Explosions caused by failed Aldyl-A and other types of plastic pipe have killed more than 50 people in the United States since 1971, the federal government says. 

Instead of requiring utilities to remove the problematic plastic, however, U.S. pipeline safety officials have allowed the industry to compile limited data about failures in Aldyl-A and similar pipe and to keep the findings confidential, according to the Chronicle story. 

Meanwhile in Seattle, a spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy said that utility crews discovered two gas leaks within a half mile of the site of the Sept. 26 explosion, according to the Times. A third leak was discovered less than a mile from the site. A utility spokesman said the explosion was caused by corrosion that occurred when a falling tree took out a power line and electricity traveled into underground pipes. 

To read the San Francisco Chronicle story, please click here

To read the Seattle Times story, please click here.

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