Natural Gas Pipeline Explosions Raise Oversight Concerns

<"">Natural gas pipeline explosions—particularly one in Allentown and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this year, alone—are raising concerns about the nation’s pipeline safety oversight, wrote The Morning Call. The two Pennsylvania natural gas pipeline explosions resulted in fatalities.

Now, experts are wondering if the nation’s pipeline inspection system is appropriately protecting Americans, said The Morning Call, which explained that the system is funded at the state and federal level by gas utility assessments.

A fatal 1999 blast in Bellingham, Washington, prompted Congress to create a federal agency to oversee pipeline safety, said The Morning Call, and the government promised more state funding. In Pennsylvania, despite Washington’s increased handling of costs via increased fees to utilities to fund safety inspections, the state cut its fees on utilities, noted The Morning Call. This means that, in Pennsylvania, while federal funding for inspections was doubled, the state slashed its own funding by 30 percent from 2006 to 2010. The state still saw a four percent increase in its safety inspection budget since 2006 because of the government’s shoring up of funding, said The Morning Call.

Up until 2011, the state’s experienced a decline in spills and explosions every year since 2005 and, in 2010, Pennsylvania only had one “reportable incident,” according to Paul Metro, Public Utility Commission’s chief engineer for gas safety, wrote The Morning Call. But, in just the first two months of this year, two explosions killed five in Allentown and one in Philadelphia.

The Allentown blast also destroyed eight homes and damaged 47 other properties. Those killed in the explosion included a four-month-old boy, a 16-year-old girl, a 69-year-old woman, a 79-year-old man, and a 74-year-old woman. Some 350 people were evacuated from the area, including 165 seniors who were moved away from a senior apartment complex. They were later returned safely.

In January, a gas pipeline exploded in Philadelphia, killing an employee of Philadelphia Gas Works and injuring six others responding to a report of gas odors in a residential area.

In September, an explosion along a 30-inch natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California destroyed 53 homes, damaged 120 more, and left seven people dead. The pipe involved in that blast was 54 years old.

Gas-distribution accidents caused 291 deaths and 1,193 injuries from 1990 to March 2010, though not all of those involved explosions. As we’ve reported previously, pipeline blasts in the past five years have killed 60 and injured 230.

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