The photos last Tuesday, Sept. 11, were chilling. Dozens of homes in the Boston suburbs suddenly exploded from unknown gas leaks caused by an aging pipe infrastructure. Some 40 homes were immediately engulfed in fire. One teenager was killed and over a dozen people were injured. More than 8,000 residents were evacuated from their homes.
By Friday, Sept. 14, residents were being allowed back in their homes. Many expressed hesitancy, even fear, about turning the gas and electricity back on. Authorities are examining the old gas pipelines, but assuring residents they are safe.
Meanwhile, in Georgetown, on Sunday, Sept. 16, around 3 p.m., residents at the corner of Dumbarton and 28th Streets were frightened by a loud knocking on the door by uniformed police and fire department officials. “A gas leak had been detected by a passerby and they urged us to turn off the gas,” said Josh (who refused to give his last name). “We didn’t notice the gas smell until we got outside and now it’s quite strong.”
On Sunday evening, Washington Gas workers began tearing up the street, aided by lights mounted on trucks. By Monday morning, Sept. 17, Evan Sheres wrote on the East Village Next Door website: “Looks like they found the source of the leak of the pipe leading to our house and will be working on this during the day tomorrow. Will have traffic control and no parking signs on Dumbarton between 28 & 27th streets. We heard the pipe that they dug up leaking ourselves.” He concluded: “Still no word to the community from Washington Gas.”
Edward Segal, a neighbor who has been concerned about gas leaks in Georgetown for years, wrote: “With the aftermath of last week’s gas pipeline-related fires and explosions in the Boston suburbs, when will our community leaders do something about the continued
lack of communication, accountability, and transparency by Washington Gas Light? Our own gas-related issues, questions and concerns continue to be ignored.”
We investigate explosions all over the country,” Mark McDonald, president of NatGas Consulting in Boston, told the Boston Globe last week. “The public would be shocked to know how common they are.” Most incidents can be traced to several common causes: aging infrastructure, incorrect installation and third-party damage, according to McDonald.
The sporadic fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Massachusetts, were likely the result of excess amounts of natural gas coursing through the region’s old pipes. “Itappears to be an over-pressurization of the entire system,” McDonald said. “It is actuallyquite an uncommon cause.”
Thousands of gas leaks in Washington, D.C., had been found to be responsible for $15 million to $20 million in damage to trees, according to a 2011 study done by natural gas safety expert Robert Ackley of Gas Safety Inc. in Southborough, Massachusetts. Last August, Segal hosted Ackley in Georgetown for three days to update his research — specifically in Georgetown — using the cavity ring-down spectroscopy equipment. This equipment detects and documents methane in parts per billion and tags each reading with global positioning coordinates that can be plotted on Google Earth.
Ackley’s report just came out this week. “The good news is most of the leaks detected are not necessarily explosion hazards for buildings. The bad news is no community can afford to be lulled into a false sense of confidence about the safety of their gas pipelines.”
But Segal is frustrated by a lack of feedback about the situation. “I am fed up,” Segal toldThe Georgetowner. “I’ve made complaints about the lack of transparency for going on three years now to all the proper public agencies and get no responses.” Last week, a gas company contractor was again measuring the street in front of his home that had been torn up for months last year to repair some pipes, Segal said. “He told me that they have to fix it all again.”
However, the gas company’s press office answered an inquiry from The Georgetowner within hours: “Washington Gas received a report of a gas odor on Sunday afternoon. We responded to the scene immediately. We investigated the area, worked to make sure that gas was off and the area was safe, and determined that the older service line should be replaced. Crews are on site to replace the service line.”