The Blast Heard Round the Country - San Bruno Explosion a Warning for U.S. Communities (p. 1)

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Sep 16, 2010 in Wrongful Death

Homeowners, regulators, and utility companies in West Virginia and around the country watched in horror as the details of the San Bruno, CA gas explosion emerged. With four people dead, dozens of people injured, and an entire neighborhood leveled, the blast has provided us all with a compelling human drama and a startling wake-up call.

While investigators work to determine the cause of the explosion, others are looking at system-wide root causes. The steel pipe in San Bruno was more than 50 years old, at or just past its life expectancy. Experts note that more than 60 percent of the nation's 2 million miles of pipelines are more than 40 years old. Most are of steel, but others are made of more corrosion-prone metals, including cast-iron. Last year, wooden pipes were discovered in parts of Pennsylvania.

The San Bruno explosion was only one of more than 2,800 significant gas pipeline accidents since 1990, according to federal officials. More than a third of those accidents resulted in deaths and significant injuries .

It's not just the age of the network that has contributed to these failures. These pipelines were originally put in place to support fewer homes. As population has grown - particularly in the suburbs - the pipelines have not expanded. The result is an aging system asked to do much more than it was designed to do. And, that larger population is sitting right on top of that pipeline.

Utilities categorize locations with larger populations as "high consequence areas." The designation, however, has no relation to safety. Nationwide, about 7 percent of the gas transmission lines are located in high consequence areas - that translates into 21,000 miles of pipeline.

Ensuring the safety of the network is an enormous task, shared by state and federal regulators and the utilities themselves. In our next post, we will explore how these organizations come together to plan, to inspect, and to improve our aging infrastructure. We will address this in more detail in our next post.

Resource: Fox News "Aging Gas Pipes at Risk of Erupting Nationwide" 9/14/10

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