Explosion at Spectra’s Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion in New York City Would Destroy a Good Chunk of Lower Manhattan.

Apr 5th, 2011 | By Mark | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Explosions, Regulation

NatGas Consulting

By naturalgaswatch.org staff

When a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California in 2010, eight people died, dozens of people were maimed and 55 homes were demolished.

But what if the same natural gas explosion had happened in New York City?

Answering that question is not just idle speculation. Spectra Energy has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to run a 30-inch natural gas pipeline, similar in size to the one that exploded in San Bruno, from New Jersey under the Hudson and into Manhattan, where the pipeline will reportedly terminate near the Henry Hudson Greenway and West 14th St.

The folks in New Jersey have organized to oppose this new pipeline, and they’ve put together a website that features a map that shows the blast zone should the line explode on the New Jersey side. You can view it here.

But what about New York City? No one, it seems, has put together a blast zone map for New York City.

So we did one – and here it is.

The graphic shows three zones: a 500-foot radius, where pretty much everything would be incinerated if the pipeline were operating at the lower end of the pressure scale, around 800 pounds per square inch (psi); an 800-foot radius, where massive damage would occur if the pipeline were to be operating at the maximum 1,450 psi; and a 1,000 foot radius, in which enormous destruction would occur if things were actually worse than the worst-case scenario, for which there is some evidence, according to a report done by a natural gas industry research lab in 2000

To be sure, the zones that are represented on this map are not just numbers that we picked out of the air. No, this is hard data, supplied by a firm called C-FER Technologies and done on behalf of the natural gas industry itself, in the form of the Gas Research Institute, which combined with the Institute of Gas Technology to form the Gas Research Institute in 2000 – but enough about that. The point is, the data comes from the industry itself.

Actually, the point is this: if this pipeline were to explode like the one in San Bruno did, the results would be devastating – hundreds, if not thousands of people killed, many more injured or maimed, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.

One expert, Prof. Anil Agrawal, a professor of civil engineering at the City College of New York, and one of the few academics in the city who has studied water and natural gas pipelines, says that the ramifications of this catastrophe happening in New York City would be staggering.

“If this explosion happened during peak hours in an area with lots of pedestrian traffic, the consequences are likely to be tragic with numerous casualties,” he said.

Eiber noted when a pipeline bursts it creates “a fire that comes out and it’s directed like a jet.  Anything in its way would be burned or catch fire.” Out in the countryside, it would do minimal harm but in a metropolis like New York City it could be massively destructive.

A New York City explosion would be worse than the San Bruno disaster because “California buildings are designed to sustain seismic effects better than our buildings,” Agrawal said.  He added that California building regulations require stronger design that “protect against shock and vibrations caused by explosions.”

Robert Eiber, a consultant who specializes in pipeline integrity, noted, “A number of people would likely lose their lives based on the higher concentration of people.  You’d have more burned buildings.”

Considering the population density of New York City and the advanced age of its infrastructure, the results of the explosion could be worse than what occurred in California.

“It depends on location, time of day, where it hit, and the surrounding environment,” Agrawal said.

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3 Comments to “Explosion at Spectra’s Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion in New York City Would Destroy a Good Chunk of Lower Manhattan.”

  1. [...] Strong opposition to the project has developed in New Jersey. You can read more about the project here. [...]

  2. [...] Energy has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to run a 30-inch natural gas pipeline, similar in size to the one that exploded in San Bruno, from New Jersey under the Hudson and into [...]

  3. Jill McManus says:

    Has anyone figured the risk radius of damage from an explosion at the pipeline planned to go under the Hudson near the Indian Point Nuclear Plant?

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