- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A newspaper reports the location of leaking natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania is kept secret by the state commission charged with regulating companies that own the lines.

But Public Utility Commissioner Gladys Brown told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (https://bit.ly/1veOtvG) it’s important to shield the locations because of “security concerns.”

The newspaper says the secrecy can prevent the public from finding out about leaks.

Pennsylvania’s aging natural gas distribution network last year sprang more than 31,000 leaks, a Tribune-Review analysis of federal data found. Pennsylvania has more than 10,000 miles of dangerously leaky, decades-old distribution pipes and it could cost $11 billion to replace them all.

The distribution network to homes and businesses is not to be confused with much larger interstate transmission lines.

Most natural gas leaks aren’t dangerous. The gas vents upward into open air and doesn’t reach explosive concentrations. But sometimes pavement or frozen soil forces natural gas to flow sideways, trapping it underground. That can lead to deadly explosions.

During the last 10 years gas, explosions killed 10 people and injured 21 in Pennsylvania, the paper found. Nationally, accidents involving distribution lines have killed more than 120 people, injured more than 500 others and caused more than $775 million in damage since 2004.

Some researchers are strapping methane detectors to cars to record readings. Peoples Natural Gas Co., which owns the gas distribution network under Pittsburgh, has asked the Environmental Defense Fund to bring a public mapping project of leaky pipes to the city.

“It’s another diagnostic tool that we believe we can use,” said Peoples spokesman Barry Kukovich, adding that “the more the public knows, the better.”

Peoples plans to remove the last of its cast iron pipe this year, part of a five-year, $500 million infrastructure upgrade project.

By comparison, half of Philadelphia’s 3,000 miles of gas lines are cast iron, the Tribune-Review analysis found.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski calls the old cast iron pipes “a ticking time bomb under most of our cities.”

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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