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

Pennsylvania's cast iron gas pipes outdated, dangerous

Natural gas is a preferred source of heat for many Allegheny County families. The combustibility of natural gas often doesn't come to mind until you see or hear about an explosion, like the recent devastating blast in Harlem. Over 2.4 million miles of gas pipelines run across the U.S. landscape, with 80 percent made up of distribution lines into homes and businesses.

Cast iron and steel pipes are giving way to plastic replacements, but the changeover isn't a fast one. Fifty percent of the pipes in use in America today were made in the middle of the last century. A significant number of cast iron pipes still remain in Pennsylvania and New York, where the source of the deadly March blast may have been in a 100-year-old cast iron pipe system.

Old iron gas pipelines leak because they're vulnerable to corrosion, weather extremes, man-made errors and time. Natural gas is largely invisible, odorless and volatile methane. The U.S. recorded 533 injuries and 129 deaths in the last 10 years from gas fires and explosions and yet, natural gas projects have expanded 60 percent in the last three decades, without much concern or effort by gas companies to replace existing pipes.

Gas leaks are built into the costs consumers pay for gas service. A senator's report found gas companies replaced only about three percent of old steel or cast iron distribution pipes in 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency stated cast iron pipes, four times more likely to leak than other pipes, were responsible for the majority of tens of millions of tons of annual methane emissions reported by gas companies.

The number of gas pipeline-related injuries and deaths fell 27 percent during the last decade but, with outdated pipes carrying explosive gas, threats of injuries and death remain. Compensation is available for burn victims and survivors harmed by gas company negligence through legal claims.

Source: Mother Jones, "Charts: How Dangerous Are the Gas Pipes Under Your City?" James West, Mar. 21, 2014

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