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Dangers of Our Aging Infrastructure

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With an article highlighting the tragedy that can ensue from negligent maintenance of the country’s infrastructure,  Levin Papantonio continues to draw attention to this growing public challenge.

Natural Gas Explosions in Neighborhoods – The Aging Infrastructure

Jan 30, 2015 By Levin Papantonio
Coursing through communities and under the streets, schools, and homes of the United States is more than 2.3 million miles of pipes carrying natural gas and other refined petroleum products.

Beginning in the late 1800s, gas distribution companies in the United States first started laying cast iron pipes to channel gas to homes and businesses.  In the early 1900s, distributors and public utilities began using unprotected steel pipe for gas distribution.  Much of the U.S. subterraneous gas pipeline infrastructure has been in continuous use for more than a half-century.  The cast iron and early steel pipeline infrastructure was neither designed to last nor intended to be used for that length of time.

Aging cast iron pipes are prone to cracking from even the slightest movement of earth:  both frost and earthquakes can result in sufficient earth movement to split cast iron pipes and result in a catastrophic gas leak. Early steel pipes were not galvanized and, as a result, have walls which are corroding to dangerously thin levels. Additionally, gas pipes are typically laid out and connected every 12 feet with bell-and-spigot joints which, as they age, are also susceptible to gas leakage. More than half the gas pipeline still in use today is either cast iron or unprotected steel.

In April 2011, as a result of a string of catastrophic gas pipeline explosions, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a “Call to Action” urging all the “state pipeline agencies . . . and pipeline operators to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the highest-risk pipeline infrastructure.”  In issuing the gas pipeline Call to Action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared: “People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors.”

The modernization of the deteriorating gas pipeline infrastructure will take decades, according to the most optimistic predictions. Catastrophic gas leak explosions will continue to occur throughout the United States, destroying lives, businesses, and communities.

For more information, visit Levin Papantonio’s Natural Gas Explosion web page.