Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Gas company should hurry to replace its pipelines

In February 2011, a neighborhood in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was rocked by a deadly gas explosion that instantly blasted two houses to pieces and killed five people. The likely cause for the incident was a crack in a gas company cast iron utility pipe.

The noise and impact of the 10:45 p.m. gas explosion awoke people all over the area. About 600 residents had to be evacuated, as a raging fire ensued and firefighters struggled for hours to contain the blaze. Several additional houses were damaged.

Just the month before the Allentown incident, another natural gas explosion had killed a gas company employee in Philadelphia and injured five other people.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are now trying to expedite replacement of cast iron gas pipes to prevent more tragedies like this. The Allentown gas company, UGI Utilities, Inc., has been slow to act since the 2011 explosion. The lawmakers are asking the Public Utilities Commission to intervene and order UGI to hurry up its schedule for replacing all of its cast iron and bare metal pipes. At present, the company's plan is to finish the cast iron pipe replacement over the next 20 years, and to replace the bare iron pipes within 30 years.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 305,000 miles of pipelines carry natural gas through 210 systems in the United States. The natural gas in these systems is responsible for about 2,000 house fires a year. A fire caused by natural gas is particularly challenging to control, because a leak will feed the fire until the gas line can be capped or shut off, often a difficult task.

While the law generally holds homeowners liable for injuries due to accidents that occur on their premises, UGI and other gas companies may be found liable for the destruction and death of explosions such as the Allentown explosion. The utility company is responsible for maintenance of its pipelines. The potential for such devastating tragedies would mandate haste in taking preventive measures.

Source: Fox News, "Allentown, Pennsylvania, Neighborhood Rocked by Deadly Gas Explosion", Laura Ingle, February 10, 2011

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