The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Gas Explosion:
A Prelude of Things to Come

Sep 13, 2010

On September 9th, a 30-inch natural gas pipe running three feet underground exploded in San Bruno, California (12 miles south of San Francisco). The explosion and subsequent fire led to the deaths of four people (possibly more), injuries to more than 50 people, the complete destruction of 38 homes with damage to seven other homes – total devastation to four city blocks. One resident said, “I thought we’d been attacked by a missile. Everything was shaking. I thought this was the end.”

For weeks residents have complained to Pacific Gas and Electric Company because they smelled gas. But nothing came of those complaints – except the explosion!

PG&E is one of the nation’s largest utilities, providing electric and gas service to about 15 million people in Northern California. This is not PG&E’s first incident. It has a whole history of incidents. In 2008 a smaller PG&E gas line ruptured in Rancho Cordova, California, killing one person and injuring five others. In 2006, the company had used improper piping that allowed gas to leak from a mechanical coupling. When a crew was finally sent out – after a long delay – to check, it had a faulty gas leak-detector. This delay led to the loss of life and injuries. All told PG&E has had 65 gas pipeline “incidents” since 2004. At least 16 of those “incidents” spurred evacuations of dozens of homes and businesses.

There are thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing cities over the whole country, under millions of buildings. And the pipelines are aging – and not well maintained. The pipe that exploded in San Bruno was 62 years old, for example.

Federal officials are concerned that maintenance spending “may not be” keeping up with deterioration. But “concern” is where they stop, however! They’ve done nothing about these dangers. Why not force utilities to maintain, repair, and replace equipment? Why not impose respect for safety on companies like PG&E?