This Week in Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions — Jan. 3, 2012Jan 3rd, 2012 | By fjgallagher | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Explosions, Natural Gas Leaks
NaturalGasWatch.org may have taken some time off for the holiday, but natural gas leaks and natural gas explosions certainly didn’t, so let’s get right to it.A natural gas pipeline exploded in Estill County, Kentucky on Monday, Jan. 2, near the the town of Irvine, Kentucky, forcing the evacuation of 35 families who lived in the area. Flames continue to shoot out of the exploded pipeline, as of this writing, according to recent media reports.
Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the blast, which occurred at a pipeline owned and operated by the Columbia Gulf Transmission, a so-called sister company of Kentucky’s Columbia Gas. Both companies are subsidiaries of NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, of Houston, Texas.
No one was injured in the blast. Estill County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor said the fact that no one was killed by the explosion was a matter of dumb luck.
“If this had to happen, it probably happened in one of the better places in our community as far as the distance away from a lot of residences,” Taylor told the Lexington, Kentucky, Herald-Leader. ”If it had been another half-mile either way, it probably would have impacted a lot more people and been a lot more devastating.”
High school students were evacuated in Charleston, South Carolina, this morning and sent home from school early after school officials received reports of a strong smell of natural gas in the area. Workers from South Carolina Gas & Electric are trying to pinpoint the source of the leak, according to media reports of the incident.
Firefighters evacuated a neighborhood in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on Monday after gas crews responded to a report of a natural gas odor and detected a potentially explosive amount of natural gas in the air, according to a media report. UGI officials later attributed the leak to corrosion in an 8-inch gas line.
PG&E announced on Friday that the company had found nearly two dozen gas leaks in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Pittsburg, California, including one that had the potential to explode and cause serious damage to life and property.
According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle:
On Dec. 21, a PG&E gas mapping worker discovered that 16 gas distribution system maps, known as plat maps, were “inadvertently not included in the leak survey schedule,” meaning 13.83 miles of distribution line and connections to 1,242 customers had never been inspected for leaks. The misplaced maps cover areas of the system as old as 1992 and as new as 2008.
At the same time, PG&E also disclosed that they had violated federal law by failing to inspect the pipelines every five years.
The disclosures represent the latest in a long string of embarrassing admissions made to federal and state regulators by the company after a massive explosion in a PG&E pipeline killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno, California, in September 2010.
Residents of a Casper, Wyoming, neighborhood were forced from their homes on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 29, after a large and potentially dangerous natural gas leak was reported in the area, according to a report in the Casper Star-Tribune. A SourceGas spokesperson said he did not know how old the pipelines in the area of the leak were, or if there had been leaks reported in the area before Thursday’s incident.
A neighborhood in the town of Turtle, Wisconsin was evacuated on Sunday, Jan. 1, after a home reportedly filled with natural gas attributed to a cracked valve on a natural gas-powered clothes dryer, according to a media report.
From the Beloit Daily News:
One of the home’s inhabitants had attempted to enter the home, but immediately called the fire department upon smelling a strong gas odor. Turtle Fire Department Chief Tim Huffman said it was a good thing the department was immediately called because the home was at explosive levels of natural gas. Huffman said any time a structure reaches 5-17 percent of natural gas in the air, it’s an explosive levels. The department called Wisconsin Power and Light and the gas was shut off and windows were opened to ventilate the home. The odor was so strong firefighters smelled it as soon as they drove onto the property.
And, as always, this round-up of reports does not include those natural gas leaks or explosions that are attributed to the actions of construction or excavation crews puncturing or severing natural gas pipelines during the course of their work. Were we to include those items, which occur with astonishing regularity, this feature would be far, far too long for even the most dedicated reader to finish.
Special Bonus Content: Fracking and Earthquakes — the links are stronger than you think!
Finally, although not necessarily related to a natural gas leak or explosion, it is worth noting that the State of Ohio ordered closed several so-called “injection wells” after a spate of earthquakes, including one that registered 4.0 on the Richter Scale, occurred there on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.
The Wall Street Journal reported that injection wells are used to dispose of waste water left over from hydraulic fracturing sites, aka “tracking,” as it has come to be called in the parlance of our times. Fracking involves blasting tens of thousands of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals deep underground to break apart layers of rock to release natural gas trapped within shale rock formations.
To put it charitably, there is an ongoing debate that the practice can cause seismic activities, contaminate drinking water and contribute to increased air pollution, although the natural gas industry has long denied these claims.
Nonetheless, the State of Arkansas banned injection wells earlier this year after experiencing a slew of earthquakes and researchers at Southern Methodist University reported a “plausible” link between injection wells and increased seismic activity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in March 2010.