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Have you ever smelled gas in your neighborhood?  If so, you probably called the gas company to alert them.  That is what we’re supposed to do, right?  Then they’re supposed to send someone out to check the pipelines and make sure the area is safe.  We have procedures in place to prevent a catastrophic disaster, right?

Turns out the procedure and safety measures we’ve been taught don’t really ensure our safety.

Prior to the San Bruno Explosion in Northern California on September 9, 2010, residents had been calling PG&E, the gas utility, for weeks to complain of potentially dangerous gas odors in the community. And the residents were right. It turns out this deadly explosion was caused by a ruptured natural gas pipeline that was 40-50 years old.

Since the majority of pipelines built before 1970 are steel, corrosion is a grim reality.  According to a recent analysis by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group which was established following a 1999 explosion that killed three people in Bellingham, Washington, “Most of the older pipelines lack anticorrosion coatings that are prevalent in the industry today.”

Unfortunately, gas pipeline accidents aren’t as infrequent as one might think. According to the Associated Press, “Over the past two decades, federal officials tallied 2,840 significant gas pipeline accidents nationwide — including 992 in which someone was killed or required hospitalization…  Those accidents killed 323 people and injured 1,372.”

And the problem is not limited to natural gas pipelines. We are also suffering from spills carrying crude oil. Read the rest of this entry »