The infrastructure in your city or even your home could pose many hidden dangers. For example, we know that some old building materials, like lead and asbestos, can lead to detrimental effects like brain damage and cancer. However, what about materials like old gas lines? Can these pose a risk to you and your family?
America’s Aging Natural Gas System
Unfortunately, tales regarding the dangerous nature of America’s natural gas system abound. In 2014, news of a gas explosion in Harlem rocked the nation, after an aging infrastructure was responsible for the death of 8 and injuring dozens more. A crack in an old gas pipeline was reportedly responsible for the leak – piping that was more than 100 years old. Just how much of America’s gas infrastructure is like this? What danger does it pose to the average city dweller?
The nation’s natural gas pipeline is a large network of pipes that carry from underground wells to your appliances every day. This labyrinth of pipes comprises more than 2.4 million miles and distributes natural gas all over the country. Most of this network is smaller pipes that go directly to your stove, or water heater, or whatever other appliances in your home run on gas. The rest – about 20% — are larger pipes that gather gas from refineries and transport it long distances throughout the country.
Domestic gas production has increased exponentially in recent years thanks to practices like fracking. This means that higher volume may overburden the already aging natural gas system. To address this, municipal and energy authorities are announcing new gas projects, complete with plenty of new pipelines. Though new pipelines are in the works, municipalities have done little to address the current aging pipelines that run under community homes.
What Causes Gas Leaks?
Over time, gas lines can corrode and eventually rupture, leading to leaks underground. In other cases, gas leaks may arise from extreme weather like hurricanes and the high winds they bring.
Cast iron pipes are more likely to corrode and lead to catastrophic leaks. The U.S. Department of Transportation notes that the majority of cast iron piping is isolated to five states: New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Unfortunately, one of the main problems with America’s aging natural gas infrastructure is that gas companies lack the proper incentive to replace them with new ones. Under current law, gas companies can pass the cost of replacing pipelines on to consumers. While newer plastic models are much safer and more durable, it could be decades until gas companies replace them to protect the health of the consumers they serve.
What Can You Do About Gas Leaks?
Natural gas is naturally odorless, but most gas companies add scent to it so it resembles the smell of rotten eggs. If you smell leaking gas on your property, alert the gas company right away. It’s possible that you have a gas leak that needs immediate attention.
Similarly, be vigilant about any construction going on in your neighborhood. You may notice the utility company come out to mark the location of gas lines with flags – it’s important to leave these flags where they are and discourage children from playing with them.
Aging gas lines can present a serious problem to American families. Left unchecked, these pipes that run underground can cause serious harm from leaks and explosions. Gas companies have a responsibility to replace piping with more effective and durable plastic, and the government has a duty to protect the consumer from absorbing the cost associated with replacement. By addressing these points, we can protect everyone from the dangers associated with aging gas lines.