Archive for Friday, September 17, 2010

States wait to act on aging gas lines

September 17, 2010

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— Some of Pennsylvania’s natural gas pipelines are 120 years old. Portions of lines also date to the 1800s in Massachusetts. And hundreds of miles in New York state are made of leak-prone cast iron.

Tens of thousands of miles of pipelines that run beneath communities nationwide are old or decaying, and an Associated Press survey found that no states in the parts of the country with the greatest concentration of people and pipes have ordered a safety review in the week since a deadly explosion in California raised public awareness of potential problems.

Officials from Massachusetts to Texas say their inspections are adequate, and they are waiting for federal investigators to determine the cause of the Sept. 9 gas line explosion that killed four in San Bruno, Calif., before deciding what to do.

Consumer advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers say the response fits a familiar pattern: Utilities and customers won’t pay the millions of dollars needed to replace corroded pipes, the lines fail and regulators act only after a disaster.

Massachusetts is ahead of most states, in part because it reviewed its system after several natural gas explosions during the winter of 2008-09.

About one-third of the state’s 21,000 miles of distribution lines are cast iron or bare steel. The cast-iron pipes were laid from the late 1800s to the 1940s and the bare steel between the 1930s to the 1960s.

Other states, however, are not acting as swiftly.

In Pennsylvania, the oldest pipes are 120 years old, and about 25 percent of its gas pipelines is made of unprotected cast iron and bare steel.

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