Around 67 million homes in the United States rely on natural gas, as do millions of other buildings that house businesses and schools. It is touted as a dependable source of energy, but for many Americans – and Texans – there is a major concern over the safety of the gas lines that carry natural gas.
Gas line explosions are a public hazard, causing 135 deaths and 600 injuries from 2004 to 2014, according to USA Today. This includes the death of a man in Austin, TX, who lost his life after a flash fireball caused an explosion in his own home. This leads us to ask the questions: How do these explosions happen? and What can be done to reduce this risk for those of us who use natural gas in our homes, places of work and schools?
Why Do Gas Line Explosions Happen?
The issue at the heart of so many of these explosions is the 85,000 miles of aging cast-iron and bare-steel gas pipes that are underneath cities and towns all across the country. These pipes can be corroded and be more prone to gas leaks, which can then cause an explosion like the one that happened in Austin. Despite the calls of the National Transportation Safety Board to have these pipes replaced, their use is still far too common in our communities.
A Daunting and Expensive Task Ahead
The price of replacing just one mile of these pipes is around $1 million. When you consider how many miles of pipes we currently have under our feet, it becomes clearer why there hasn’t been more done to fix the problem. But by neglecting the issue, we are effectively sitting on a ticking time bomb. The longer the pipes carry natural gas – and some service lines have been in place for over 100 years – the bigger the risk that an explosion might occur.
USA Today says that, on average, there is a gas leak nearly every other day in the United States that results in some type of destruction. Thankfully, many near-explosions are discovered and addressed before causing serious harm, but these instances are still alarming reminders of the dangers that reside below us.
On August 22, 2016, the Dallas Morning News reported that a gas leak in Grapevine prompted the evacuation of dozens of families. A couple of days later, an elementary school in El Paso also had to be evacuated due to a gas leak. These stories are common in our state and they reflect the challenges we face in addressing the problem.
Be Vocal About Gas Leaks
The aging infrastructure of the gas lines in our cities and towns pose a serious threat to all of us. While we are vulnerable to the hazards of gas explosions, we should always report leaks immediately to our gas providers. Unfortunately, this might not always get immediate results, as one Farmers Branch mother discovered in April of 2016 when she reported a gas leak to Atmos Energy only to hear that it would take the company 30 days to respond. Fortunately, in this particular case, the mother placed a video of the gas leak on YouTube and CBS11 News contacted Atmos, prompting action by the company.
The lesson we can learn from the mother in Farmers Branch is to be vocal about any potential gas leak that could be posing a threat to you, your family or community. The burden of responsibility is not on our shoulders, but we certainly have the right to fight for our safety.