DURHAM: NC eyes gas pipeline safety after NY's fatal explosion - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

NC eyes gas pipeline safety after NY's fatal explosion

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A worker inspects a pipe carrying natural gas. A worker inspects a pipe carrying natural gas.
DURHAM, N.C. -

About 1.3 million customers in North Carolina have naturalgas, which requires more than 33,000 miles of pipeline across the state.

Theintegrity of those pipes is now on the minds of some after the fatalexplosion this week in New York, believed to have been caused by a gas leak.

Bill Gilmore, deputy director of the operations division atthe North Carolina Utilities Commission, said external damage is one of thebiggest threats to the state's pipelines.

The General Assembly passed a law last year that puts acivil penalty on someone who does not call 811 prior to digging. Calling thatnumber can help people avoid hitting a line while digging.

Some of North Carolina's 33,000 miles of natural gaspipeline is half a century old, but Gilmore said most of that should besafe, and is operated and maintained properly. The types of pipes that couldgive the biggest problems are bare steel and cast iron, but those have been eliminatedin North Carolina.

  • Click Here to see how much cast iron piping can be found in otherstates
  • Click Here to see the amount of bare steel in other states

"Perhaps the number one predictor of leaks is old castiron piping," said Rob Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Dukeand Stanford universities.

Jackson heads a team from Duke and Boston universities, whichoutfitted his SUV with equipment to detect leaks. They found thousands of leaksin Washington, D.C., and Boston. A dozen of those in D.C. posed a risk ofexplosion, Jackson said.

"We want to be able provide information to help thecompanies go out and fix these leaks. By doing that, we can improve consumersafety, we can save lives, we can save money for people and also help theenvironment -- both air quality and greenhouse gas emissions," Jackson said.

Detection is key, and so is reporting a leak so it can befixed. On Friday, Gilmore sent an email to gas operators urging them to usethe publicity surrounding the New York explosion to raise awareness and toreview the ways they inform the public about gas leaks.

The fear in some states, Gilmore said, is that gasproviders will not make necessary improvements to lines because of cost. Lastyear, the General Assembly passed another law that allows utilities to makeadjustments to get back the costs.

Already, Piedmont Natural Gas is looking to spend half abillion dollars on its lines, he said.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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