This Week In Natural Gas Leaks and Explosions – July 30, 2012Jul 31st, 2012 | By fjgallagher | Category: Lead Articles
As always, it’s been a busy week in the world of natural gas leaks and natural gas explosions, but this past few days some tremendous work being done in the mainstream media documenting the extent to which the natural gas industry has co-opted the regulatory processes that are supposed to safeguard the public health and welfare.
So let’s get right to it — and bear in mind, this round-up of natural gas leaks and explosions is not meant to be comprehensive, merely representative.
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On July 24, the AP published a story by reporters Garance Burke and Mathew Brown that documented how natural gas industry trade associations like the American Gas Association have pushed back for decades against regulations that would require the industry to install safety valves the could cut off the flow of gas in an accident, potentially saving untold numbers of lives.
From the AP story:
The bulldozer was clearing land outside a day care center in Hapeville, Ga., when it broke open a buried 1-inch pipeline. The escaping gas ignited into a fireball that killed nine people, including seven children settling down for their afternoon naps.
That was 1968. Since then, there have been at least 270 similar accidents across the country that could have been prevented or made less dangerous by a valve that cuts off leaking gas and costs as little as $10-$15 for homes and small businesses and $200-$300 for larger buildings, an Associated Press investigation found.
Yet nearly 90 percent of the nation’s gas service lines aren’t fitted with the valves. Despite persistent government recommendations, the gas industry has argued that they are unreliable and cost too much to install – $207 million over 50 years in one industry-commissioned study, more than $1 billion in another estimate.
In the meantime, the accidents continued: Since Hapeville, at least 67 people have been killed and more than 350 hurt in accidents where the valves could have helped but weren’t installed. Six people were killed in a Minnesota store blast in 1972. A 25-story Manhattan building was destroyed in 1974, injuring 70 people. Four people died and six buildings were leveled in an explosion in 1998 in St. Cloud, Minn.
“There were lives lost that did not need to be lost,” said Robert Hall, deputy director of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is responsible for investigating pipeline accidents.
In Queens, New York, the Times Ledger published a detailed story that meticulously documented how inspectors from the New York State Department of Public Service, who were assigned to investigate a 2008 natural gas explosion in Flushing, were secretly handing confidential documents at the heart of their investigation over to the Con Ed, allowing the utility to edit the documents to make them appear more favorable to the utility.
From the Times Ledger story:
In 2008, two members of the state Department of Public Service — Joseph Klesin and Steven Blaney — were part of a team investigating a gas explosion near the corner of 149th Street and Sanford Avenue in Flushing that killed Edgar Zaldumbide and injured 16, including Zaldumbide’s 23-month-old daughter.
Klesin, the man who initially supervised that investigation, had not only taken numerous gifts over an eight-year period from Con Ed, but he and Blaney also allowed a consultant for the utility to edit drafts of the report and make it appear more favorable to the energy provider, the inspector general’s report stated.
On Friday, July 27, attorneys for PG&E announced that they had settled the last of the wrongful death lawsuits filed against the natural gas company in connection with the massive natural gas explosion the devastated an entire neighborhood in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.
According to a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle, which has done a great job covering the PG&E San Bruno blast, there are still more than 350 lawsuits pending against PG&E as a result of the blast, which occurred on Sept. 9, 2010.
An explosion at a natural gas well in Bolivar, Ohio, killed one man, subsequently identified as 19-year-old Paul Sherman, of Canton, Ohio, on Monday, July 16, according to recent media accounts of the incident. According to a recent story in the Youngstown Vindicator:
The well was a conventional well drilled at 5,000 feet into the Clinton formation, said Heidi Hetzel- Evans, media-relations manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The well was permitted in 1985 and began production in 1986. The well originally was permitted to Sherman Drilling and currently is owned by MKE Producing, she said.
A natural gas explosion damaged several homes in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, senior citizen housing community, on Thursday, July 26, according to recent media reports. No one was injured in the blast.
A natural gas leak reportedly triggered an explosion at a Chautauqua County, New York, home on Sunday, July 15, according to recent media reports. The home’s residents were treated for minor injuries at an area hospital.
Authorities in Madison, Wisconsin, say a lightning strike touched off a natural gas explosion at a home there early on the morning of Wednesday, July 25, according to recent media reports.
A natural gas leak touched off a three-alarm fire in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sunday, July 22, according to area media reports, sending five firefighters and one civilian to the hospital .
A natural gas explosion in Chicago, Illinois, destroyed a home on Tuesday, July 24, according to area media reports. There were no injuries.
A lightning strike is also being blamed for an explosion at a natural gas compressor station in Windsor, New York, on Monday, July 23. No injuries were reported, although area homes were evacuated. The compressor station is owned by Williams Partners.
A natural gas well owned by the Escambia Operating Co. exploded in Wayne County, Mississippi, on Thursday, July 19, sending a massive plume of natural gas cascading upward into the atmosphere, according to recent media accounts. Area residents within a one-mile radius of the well were evacuated, which reportedly remains uncapped as of this writing.