Philadelphia gas main explosion that killed a utility worker highlights a string of recent incidents across the nation
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on January 29th, 2011
Just two weeks ago, a 19-year-old Philadelphia Gas Works employee was killed in the Tacony section of the city when a 12-inch gas main exploded as he and other PGW workers were investigating a reported gas leak in the neighborhood.
In December, two people were killed in Wayne, Mich., when leaking natural gas from a gas main apparently ignited an explosion, leveling a long-established furniture store.
And last September, eight residents of San Bruno, Calif., were killed and 37 homes were destroyed when a 30-inch natural gas transmission pipeline exploded in the neighborhood, unleashing a fireball that tore through the neighborhood. Another 18 homes were damaged by the explosion and blaze.
All of these recent incidents have focused new attention on the potential dangers lurking under our homes, streets and communities due to the mazes of natural gas lines that run silently underground.
Natural gas mains aren’t the only pipelines in our communities.
There is also a nationwide system of underground natural gas transmission lines that help distribute that same gas to utility companies, as well as a system of collection lines that allow gas to flow from gas producers out to utility companies and gas suppliers.
Other pipelines are also located beneath terra firma, including pipelines that distribute various petroleum products, from gasoline to jet fuel to heating oil and more, across huge swaths of our nation.
These fuel pipelines are all regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
There are more than two million miles of natural gas distribution pipelines across America, according to PHMSA. The pipes in the system can range in size from two inches to 42 inches in diameter, according to the agency.
With all of those pipes, there are sure to be accidents.
In the last 20 years, from 1991 to 2010, there have been 1,591 natural gas distribution pipeline incidents across the nation that were classified as “significant” by the agency, according to statistics kept by PHMSA. Those are incidents involving pipes that send natural gas out to homes and businesses from gas utility companies. There were 292 fatalities and 1,164 injuries connected with those incidents, causing more than $1 billion in property damage.
There were another 861 significant incidents involving gas transmission pipelines, which deliver natural gas from refineries to utility companies during that same timeframe, according to the PHMSA figures. Those incidents involved 43 fatalities and 219 injuries.
So what does this all mean to residents in communities across the country?
It means that we all need to be aware of what is going on underground and be wary, smart and vigilant when we see or smell something that isn’t quite right in our neighborhoods.
In the Philadelphia incident earlier this month, PGW utility workers and city firefighters were working in the neighborhood just before the explosion, asking residents to leave their homes until the source of the gas leak was found, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. In additional to killing one PGW worker, six other workers and emergency personnel were injured by the blast.
In the Michigan gas explosion that destroyed the furniture store and killed two people, the local gas utility company had been alerted to the smell of gas near the store earlier that day and was investigating, according to a story in The Detroit News.
The San Bruno, Calif., disaster is still under investigation, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times, but initial reports found that welding defects were present in the 30-inch line that ” intensified questions about the adequacy of safety testing and inspection practices employed by the pipeline operator, utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric,” according to the story.
Another Times story reported that discrepancies were found in the records outlining the pipeline’s construction and maintenance, in addition to the welding questions that have been unearthed. The investigation is still in its early stages and is not expected to be completed until later this year, the story said.
Earlier this month, the PHMSA sent out an “Advisory Bulletin” to pipeline operators across the nation to “remind” them of their responsibilities to conduct proper analyses to ensure the safety of their pipeline systems. The report addresses the San Bruno gas pipe rupture incident and stresses that pipeline operators need to be much more vigilant about their operations.
“Over the past several years, PHMSA inspections and investigations have revealed deficiencies in individual operators’ risk analysis approaches,” the report said.
Natural gas pipelines, whether they are transmission or distribution lines, are not to be taken lightly.
Gas leaks in your home, your block or your neighborhood should be viewed with great urgency and reported immediately with as much information as possible to gas utilities and local emergency officials.
There are some basic and simple safety rules to follow if you ever smell the “rotten egg smell” of natural gas in your home, workplace or outdoors, according to the PHMSA:
*start any engines – you can cause an explosion.
*strike matches or start a flame.
*use a telephone or cell phone – they can ignite gas fumes.
*operate any electrical, light or garage door switches. They can spark an explosion.
*touch or approach leaking liquids or gases.
*drive into or near a vapor cloud area.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO:
*ensure that all gas appliances are turned OFF.
*immediately leave the area, then call for help from a neighboring property or well away from the gas leak.
*warn others from approaching the leaking area and tell them not to cause any sparks that could cause a resulting explosion.
The Philadelphia, Michigan and California gas explosion incidents will all likely land in court for years as the cases are reviewed and adjudicated.
What we can all learn from these incidents is critical if you or a member of your family ever becomes embroiled in such a potential disaster, which clearly can strike in any neighborhood in any part of the country.
The first order of business – get out of the area immediately and call emergency workers for help in the event of a natural gas leak.
Next, stay clear until you are advised by emergency workers that it is safe to return to the area.
And lastly, if you or your family is injured or impacted by such an incident, be sure to get the best legal advice to help you and represent you from the start. Turn to us here at MyPhillyLawyer and we will stand with you.
When losing isn’t an option, call MyPhillyLawyer.