Investigator: Aging gas pipes pose danger in NE Ohio

12:11 PM, Apr 5, 2011   |    comments
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NORTHEAST OHIO -- Thousands of miles of gas pipelines in northeast Ohio are 60 years or older and made of untreated steel, which is prone to corrosion, federal records show.

Channel 3 News examined the data in the wake of a series of gas explosions, including a deadly blast in San Bruno, California last September.

"We have some of the oldest pipelines in the world," University of Akron professor Joe Payer said. Payer is widely regarded as an expert in corrosion.

Dominion East Ohio is in the process of installing new gas lines. More than 13,000 miles of their pipelines in Ohio, or 62 percent, are at least 50 years old.

They were installed prior to the implementation of strict federal safety regulations.

More than 4,000 miles of gas lines in northeast Ohio are 61 years or older and made of untreated steel which are at risk of corroding.

It will take the gas company 25 years to replace the aging lines. 

"Currently, we have been spending $100 million a year replacing pipelines and we're proposing to spend double that amount," said Neil Durbin, of Dominion East Ohio.

Records show Dominion East Ohio had more than 24,000 gas leaks in 2009. Sixty percent of the leaks were caused by corrosion.

Recent explosions in Fairport Harbor and Columbiana County in eastern Ohio have folks wondering about their safety. 

"I wouldn't want my house to blow up like some of these did," said Ted Makse, who owns property in Fairport Harbor.

A month ago, a natural gas explosion rocked a neighborhood in Allentown, Pa. The blast killed five people and damaged more than 40 homes. A crack in a 12-inch gas main may be the cause.

There have been similar explosions in Detroit and Philadelphia.  The worst occurred last September in San Bruno, Calif.  Residents thought a plane had crashed.

But a gas pipe erupted and a raging fire followed. Eight people died and 38 homes were destroyed. Federal investigators found so-called "low-frequency" welds were faulty. 

Dominion East Ohio says those type of welds are involved in a small percentage of its pipeline system, but they're monitoring them closely in the wake of the San Bruno explosion.

"We are very concerned about the number of pipeline accidents and the safety of the infrastrcuture," NTSB chairman Debbbie Hersman said.

Mary Javins, of Fairport Harbor, says nothing is done about gas pipelines until there's an explosion.

"It's out of sight and out of mind. We need to pay attention to our infrastructure," she told the Investigator Tom Meyer. 

In this country, more than 2 million miles of pipeline moves natural gas to more than 70 million homes and businesses.  Utilities, as of 2002, are required to inspect gas lines about once a year in highly-populated areas.

"There's risks involved with this.  To say that no pipelines should ever fail or leak in the United States is just unrealistic. It's like saying no planes will ever crash," Payer said.


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