In the past few days, the towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover were hit by massive gas explosions. The explosions were followed by massive pillars of smoke and the residents have been left in shock.
The gas lines in the immediate area of the explosions have been depressurized and their power has been turned off. The entire surrounding neighborhoods have also been evacuated. School has also been canceled in the area. All residents that are receiving their gas supply from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts have been advised to evacuate.
All of this comes only a month after a gas leak in Lawrence, Massachusetts caused another large-scale evacuation.
The Science Behind Gas Lines
In order for gas to travel through a gas line, it needs to be pressure pushed from the point where it is extracted to the consumer’s home. As it passes over larger distances, it has to do so under a high amount of pressure in order to successfully cover those distances.
When the gas reaches smaller distribution pipes, that pressure is lowered so the gas can be more easily transported to homes and buildings. At this point, as the gas starts going through the smaller lines, the recognizable smell of gases is added by the gas companies. This is done for the protection of the consumers since the gas on its own does not have any kind of smell, and this way it is easier to detect.
The system used to monitor the gas and the gas lines monitors the pressure carefully in order to prevent it from building up to unsafe levels. The high pressure is what leads to explosions.
According to the American Gas Association, while the gas is flowing through the system, the flow is regulated in order to keep the pressure under control. If the regulators detect a rise or drop above the allowed limit they close. Additionally, there are strategically placed relief valves installed on the gas lines if the need for venting the gases ever arises.
At this time it is still unclear which of the aforementioned safety measures were missing in the affected communities and their gas lines.
Other Records of Gas Explosions
As recently as 2010, issues with over-pressurization caused a massive explosion in San Bruno which led to eight people losing their lives.
Another explosion that occurred through 2012 was in Springfield, Massachusetts. Interestingly, its location is only 100 miles away from the explosion that happened on the 13th of September. The explosion happened in November of 2012, and it destroyed 42 building while injuring 18 people.
In the wake of the recent explosions, Columbia Gas has begun strengthening and upgrading their gas lines leading to Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. They claim that the upgrades they are making today ensure long-term benefits and provide enhanced safety features for the customers.