Natural gas pipeline safety


Currently, there are more than 2.4 million miles of pipelines dedicated to carrying natural gas across the country.

The vast majority of these, more than 80 percent, consist of distribution lines, which are the small-gauge pipes that deliver gas to our apartments, houses or businesses for heating and cooking. In the 10 years since 2004, there have been 129 people killed and 533 injured in more than 2,660 major incidents on America’s gas network. In March 2014, a massive explosion leveled two five-story buildings on an East Harlem street in New York City, killing eight and injuring dozens more.

Approximately 3 percent of our gas distribution mains are made of cast or wrought iron and half of the nation’s pipes were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s during a post-war boom. The pipes in the East Harlem explosion were made of cast iron and dated back to 1887.

Apparently, the newer, plastic pipelines, while being less susceptible to corrosion, can melt more easily than older iron or steel installations. Moreover, some of our current pipeline infrastructure was built using materials and welding techniques that, though considered acceptable and state-of-the-art at the time, are no longer used today.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says there are still around 36,000 miles of old cast iron pipes mainly concentrated in five states: New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Moreover, the cast iron used in these main and service lines is four times more prone to serious leaks than other materials.

With the gas network growing nearly 60 percent over the last 30 years, from 1.55 million miles to 2.45 million miles regulations that are more stringent are long overdue. Especially when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says 45 major gas projects with 1,723 new miles of pipelines are in the planning stages.

Right now, a major problem is that companies don’t have incentive to replace the pipes, because they are allowed to pass on the costs of leaked gas to consumers, according to Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.). A report prepared by Senator Markey’s office says that in 2012, gas companies replaced just 3 percent of their distribution mains made of cast iron or bare steel. And at that rate, it will be 2090, for example, before residents of New York state can enjoy that reality.

Do you thing it’s time for Michigan’s DTE to begin reviewing and inspecting it’s aging pipelines and make necessary updates? In December 2011, the non-partisan organization Public Campaign criticized DTE Energy for spending $4.37 million on lobbying and not paying any taxes during 2008-2010, instead getting $17 million in tax rebates, despite making a profit of $2.5 billion!

Call them DTE at 800-477-4747 and ask how old your gas line is. And, then ask them what it’s made from. If it’s iron or steel, tell them to replace it.

They can afford it.

Gerry Niedermaier