Allentown Natural Gas Explosion Raises Pipeline Worries

The <"">Allentown Natural Gas Explosion that killed five people is bringing attention to the safety issue with natural gas pipelines. For instance, are materials such as cast iron safe environments through which natural gas should travel?

As we’ve previously reported, the pipe involved in the Allentown Natural Gas Explosion was installed in 1928, making the Dangerous Pipeline 83-years-old. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has warned in the past that such cast iron pipes are subject to decay and, in some cases, in need of replacement. The federal Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 envisions replacement of such pipelines with safer materials, such as steel.

The issue of cast iron safety is among the items of concern in the fatal blast, said The Express Times. It seems that the main likely to blame in the explosion is made of cast iron; however, most pipelines in the UGI Utilities system are plastic, according to UGI Utilities Inc. officials, said. Over the weekend, UGI Utilities Inc. said a crack in a section of the 12-inch cast-iron gas main could have caused last week’s blast in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which killed several and destroyed or damaged dozens of properties.

The break was found near West Allen and North 13th streets said The Express Times, which said that forensic testing is being performed on the pipe at a third-party lab.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (Democrat-Pennsylvania), wrote to UGA yesterday discussing his concerns about the safety of some 63,000 miles of interstate pipeline operated by UGI and other natural gas companies in Pennsylvania, said The Express Times. In response, UGI President John L. Walsh invited Casey to meet with UGI officials and to discuss current safety policies and programs in place at the utility.

In his letter, Casey pointed out that Allentown and other cities could be utilizing pipes that are not only more than a century old and constructed of outdated materials, but that could be dangerous, said The Express Times.

According to Walsh, the utility spends in excess of $20 million annually to replace and upgrade pipelines in southeastern and central Pennsylvania with plastic piping, which is generally installed to remove cast-iron pipes, said The Express Times. “Plastic pipes are the newest technology; they are not prone to some of the corrosion older pipes have,” said UGI spokesman Joseph Swope, quoted The Express Times. “They are considered to be a generally superior technology in most circumstances,” Swope added, noting that cast iron is still called for in some cases due to its longevity.

A duplex was instantly destroyed by last Wednesday’s explosion, which occurred around 10:45 p.m. when a suspected natural gas leak in the 500 Block of North 13th Street ignited, sparking a fire that burned into the morning. According to a Bloomberg report, the pipeline involved in the blast lacked shut-off valves. As a result, the gas feeding the massive fire was not shut off until 3:45 a.m. the next morning, and the fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m.

According to the Morning Call, the Allentown natural gas explosion killed a couple in their 70s, William and Beatrice Hall, and three generations of one family — Ofelia Ben, 69; Catherine Cruz, 16; and 4-month-old Matthew Cruz. Eight homes were destroyed, and 47 other properties were damaged.

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