On Wednesday February 9, 2011, a natural gas pipeline explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania killed five people and destroyed several homes in the downtown area. On Thursday, another pipeline explosion occurred in a rural area near Hanoverton, Ohio. No one was hurt in the blast, but the flames could be seen for miles.
Timeline of Recent Natural Gas Pipeline Explosions:
- September 9, 2010 – San Bruno, California. Eight people killed, and 38 homes destroyed.
- December 29, 2010 – Wayne, Michigan. Two employees of a furniture store killed and the owner seriously injured. The business was destroyed and other buildings damaged.
- January 18, 2011 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One utility worker killed, six injured. Buildings and cars were destroyed.
- January 24, 2011 – Fairport Harbor, Ohio. Nine buildings destroyed and others damaged. Natural gas filled area homes. Residents evacuated.
- February 9, 2011 – Allentown, Pennsylvania. Five dead. Eight homes destroyed and many others damaged.
- February 10, 2011 – Hanoverton, Ohio. Rural area in eastern Ohio. One home slightly damaged.
According to the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) within the U. S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), there are 2,066,000 miles of Natural Gas Distribution mains and service pipelines in the United States (by contrast, there are slightly less than 47,000 miles of interstate roads).
You can find out if your neighborhood is sitting on a pipeline by visiting the National Pipeline Mapping System Public Map Viewer. We have a gas transmission pipe and a hazardous liquid pipe under our neighborhood. I knew about the gas pipe because of the brightly colored marker that companies are required to post near their pipes. The map won’t tell you the age of the pipeline or the last time it was serviced or inspected.
From the OPS:
Although pipelines exist in all fifty states, most of us are unaware that this vast network even exists. This is due to the strong safety record of pipelines and the fact that most of them are located underground. Installing pipelines underground protects them from damage and helps protect our communities as well.
I don’t find that particularly reassuring.
The Federal Pipeline Safety Laws can be found HERE.
One last unsettling statement from OPS:
PHMSA has a limited number of inspectors in the field. Along with our state partners we oversee over 2 million miles of pipelines. Due to this and other limitations, our past focus had to be fairly narrow in order to have any impact. We concentrated on defining and ensuring industry compliance with minimal design, operational, and maintenance practices. That regulatory approach produced a good safety record; pipelines today are the safest, most environmentally-friendly and reliable mode of hazardous liquid and gas transportation. However pipeline accidents still happen – sometimes with tragic consequences. Therefore, we have to do better, and we are.
Since our house is in a very small town in a very rural area, my guess is that our pipeline is not their focus. The money and infrastructure improvements will go to high population areas, because in the opinion of the Federal Government, the smaller you are (in size and or number), the less important you are.