The San Bruno Natural Gas Disaster and its implications for Hyattsville, MD
THE SAN BRUNO EXPLOSION: LESSONS FOR HYATTSVILLE AND MANY OTHER PLACES
San Bruno, California, San Francisco Suburb: Dinner time, Thursday, September 9, a massive explosion; the ensuing fire rips through this residential neighborhood. Residents flee for their lives – not everyone makes it out. Firefighters battle the enormous blaze into the morning. According to press reports, seven dead and least 52 people injured and dozens of homes were destroyed or damaged. The pipeline is owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E). The explosion occurred less than a mile from the San Francisco International Airport. Several sources: Click: A and B
What happened? Something ignited a leak of natural gas from an underground transmission line that something had ruptured. The somethings are under investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board.
A comparison of before and after aerial photos show the massive level of devastation caused by the gas explosion and fire in San Bruno (See below and click on photos to enlarge).
Vulnerability: Transmission lines ship natural gas from source locations to the distribution networks which deliver the gas to homes. Because these pipes carry lots of gas under high pressure, ruptures or cracks caused by fatigue and corrosion can release lots of gas.
Unfortunately, many high pressure lines run through populated areas. The 30-inch transmission line which exploded in San Bruno, installed in 1956, was made of steel. Old steel is very risky. It’s rigid – not flexible and cracks – and is also corrodible.
In addition PG&E was not able to inspect the line using the most reliable “smart pig technology” – robots that tunnel through the pipes and detect corrosion and cracks.To make matters worse, PG&E was exceeding its own maximum pressure limits in the line – this according to federal investigators.
Could it happen where you live? In the aftermath of the San Bruno disaster, communities and local governments around the country are expressing concerns about the location and safety of high pressure gas transmission lines in their own neighborhoods. The concerns are real. The graph (link) shows that some 60 percent of the natural gas transmission line mileage in the U.S. is at least 40 years old – i.e. subject to deterioration. Many run through populated areas. The total mileage is nearly 300,000 miles. Accidents also occur in the distribution lines that deliver gas from the transmission lines directly to homes. Click graph to enlarge.
The LNG Proposal: In recent years, the Chillum community and local jurisdictions have been fighting WGC’s proposal to install a large Natural Gas (LNG) production and storage facility at its Chillum Road facility.
Maryland PSC: Step up to the Plate: Ekos-squared urges the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to drop any further consideration of the LNG proposal for the Chillum neighborhood and instead focus on determining the safety of the current facility and transmission lines. Residents report that the transmission line may be 80 years old. They also told us that the frequently smell gas in the neighborhood. The San Bruno disaster should give the Maryland PSC and elected officials the impetus it needs to carry out a full investigation of transmission lines in populated areas including the Chillum Road area of Hyattsville. Then it must order Washington Gas to take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent an explosion with disastrous consequences.
PSC and Washington Gas should provide the community answers to many questions; here is a preliminary list.
- What are the current uses of WGC’s Chillum Road facility? What risks are associated with these uses and what precautions are in place. How old are the key items of equipment at the facility. When is the last inspection that PSC conducted there?
- How many transmission lines operate in the Chillum Road area? How old are these pipes? Diameters? Of what material(s) are the pipes made? At what pressures do they operate? Have any of the older lines been replaced?
- How often are the active transmission lines inspected by MD PSC? What problems, violations, and/or citations have the Commission issued to WGC? Have any fines been assessed? What corrective actions have been taken? Do any issues remain unresolved?
- Has the PSC made an independent assessment of the condition of the transmission lines (and distribution lines) in the area? Has it attempted to establish whether there have been problems with cracks, holes, corrosion or leaks in the pipes? Has WGC used current “smart pig technology” to determine the condition of the transmission lines? If not, why not?
- How many inspectors does the PSC to examine Maryland gas transmission lines? How many miles of pipeline?
We urge PSC and local elected officials to initiate an investigation needed to and other vital questions; the process and results should be fully accessible to the public.
We invite your comments