For over 3 decades, Automation has specialized in the manufacture of components for couplings, valves, and other key products for natural gas distribution systems around the world. Due to the potential dangers associated with natural gas usage, these components need to satisfy stringent requirements for design, functionality, strength, raw material properties, and integrity of the quality control system. Additionally, natural gas distribution components have an extremely long design life, extending up to and beyond 50 years.
The industry is regulated in the United States by the US Department of Transportation. Accidents and explosions are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, the same Federal agency that investigates civil aviation crashes.
Natural gas explosions are almost always associated with gas leaks. Gas leaks are propagated by various failure modes, including manufacturing defects, installation errors, accidental breaks, and crime (theft of copper). The consequences, therefore, of manufacturing defective gas components, include catastrophic destruction of property and the loss of human life. Employees at Automation need to have a keen awareness of this reality. Work ethic, dedication to Quality, commitment to excellence – these ideals can’t be taken lightly in the context of our responsibility to our customers, and their customers.
This event did not involve plastic pipeline components or manufacturing defects. It is entirely related to damage sustained by a properly installed steel pipe. However, it does illustrate both the human cost of seemingly insignificant failure modes, and the need for the very highest levels of manufacturing and design excellence in the natural gas distribution industry.
The explosion destroyed a home, caused $1 million in damage, and resulted in the loss of a human life.
When the NTSB investigated, the explosion was traced to a leak in a gas line in front of the house.
The gas pipe was installed in 1961. In 2003, 42 years later, during sewer excavation work, the pipe was likely scratched, stripping a small section (about 10”) of its protective coating. This damage made the pipe susceptible to corrosion and failure.
In March of 2008, nearly 5 years after the sewer excavation, a crack opened on the pipe; leaking gas quickly followed the path of least resistance, probably the porous excavation backfill, and began accumulating in the house:
“The pipeline failure was probably rapid since no one had smelled gas 30 minutes before the explosion…. Additionally, the crack on the pipeline, at 10 psig, could have quickly allowed a flammable amount of gas to collect within the residence, which had many potential ignition sources.”
The result was catastrophic.