- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Company on Thursday claimed its equipment is not to blame for the natural gas explosion in the northwest part of the city that killed two and injured seven others this week.

The utility company completed an inspection along 4200 block of Labyrinth Road, the site of the blast, and reportedly found that all of its gas and electric equipment had been “operating safely.” Investigators also are looking into customer-owned gas piping and appliances at the scene of the explosion.

Dozens of firefighters on Monday morning responded to an explosion that leveled several houses in the neighborhood of Reisterstown Station after receiving multiple reports of a blast with a three-block radius.

Firefighters had rescued seven victims from the debris who were then transported to the hospital. Four of the victims have been discharged, two are in stable condition and one remains in critical, according to the Baltimore City Fire Department.

Lonnie Herriott, a 61-year-old woman, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after Monday’s explosion. Early Tuesday morning, firefighters discovered a second person died from the blast, pulling Joseph Graham, a 20-year-old man, from the debris.

On Wednesday, BGE pressure tested gas service pipes serving properties affected by the blast and found that they successfully held pressure with no leaks. BGE also noted that customers at the properties also had not reported leaks for the last five years.

But data from one gas meter pointed to some type of issue beyond the BGE meter on gas equipment owned by a customer, the company said, which is currently being analyzed.

The gas main and service pipes along Labyrinth Road were last inspected by BGE in June and July of 2019, and no leaks were found. No gas odors were reported in the area or from the block of homes that were destroyed on the day of the explosion, BGE said.

The explosion displaced nearly 30 residents and damaged almost 200 homes.

“During this horrific event, the City of Baltimore has come together as one community and shown deliberate and action driven compassion for those impacted by this incident,” said Baltimore City Fire Department Chief Niles Ford in a statement Tuesday. “The explosion was devastating, and our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased and injured, as well as those that have been displaced from their homes.”

BGE described the protected steel materials, installed in the 1960s, that make up the medium-pressure gas mains and service pipes in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood as “very safe and highly reliable with low leak rates.”

BGE said it is replacing aging equipment throughout central Maryland, mostly focused on removing low-pressure cast iron, unprotected steel and copper piping.

These materials, which reportedly make up 20% of the gas system but account for 70% of leaks, were not used in properties along Labyrinth Road. In efforts to modernize its gas system, the company said it has invested millions of dollars and replaced 260 miles of gas main and 64,000 gas service pipes and risers.

However, The Baltimore Sun reported last year that BGE has thousands of miles of pipes that need to be replaced, an effort that could span 20 years and cost nearly $1 billion. Dangerous gas leaks are happening more frequently, the newspaper said, with almost two dozen on average each day.

The cause behind Monday’s explosion remains unknown. The Baltimore City Fire Department and other agencies are still investigating.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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