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Billions of dollars have been spent on pipeline replacement programs over the last decade to prevent invisible gas leaks from aging or damaged pipelines, and it is having a dramatically positive impact on leaks, according to a newly released study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“There hasn’t before been a solid example of the efficacy of pipeline replacement programs,” said Rob Jackson, an author of the paper and environmental scientist at Stanford University.

“The costs of leaky pipes, estimated at $2 billion per year, as well as the greenhouse gas contributes to global warming and smog, Jackson said. And, the leaks can lead to deadly explosions in some cases.”

Using cars equipped with methane-detecting instruments, researchers drove an estimated 1,600 miles of Manhattan, NY, Cincinnati, OH and Durham, NC. The contrast in leaks across these cities was largely different. In New York, where it could take 50 years or more to upgrade piping, researchers found more than 1,000 gas leaks still plaguing the city.

While in Durham and Cincinnati, scientists found 132 and 351 gas leaks, respectively, where utilities are executing aggressive replacement plans.

Gas leak incidents have decreased across the U.S. as mains are upgraded, but in 2014, 65 gas pipeline leaks resulted in 18 fatalities, 93 injuries and $73 million in property damage, said researchers. Among those figures was a gas explosion in East Harlem, New York, that killed eight people and injured 48 more.

Scientists first began their research in 2011 mapping leaks in Boston and Washington, D.C. where they found similar leaks-per-mile to what they found in New York. Other cities are decades from fully replacing old pipes. Baltimore for instance, is slated to finish by the year 2155, if the current pace continues, according to researchers.

Gas Leaks Can Lead to Explosions

We teamed up with another firm on a case that settled for more than $9,000,000 in favor of a utility worker who sustained total body surface burns to 66% of his body in an explosion when a natural gas main line pipe deteriorated and allowed natural gas to leak and migrate to an underground vault. Government and company regulations required the underground vault to be secured from migrating gas and toxins. But, despite these regulations, inadequate sealing allowed natural gas to build up in the vault. When the worker entered the manhole to work on cables, the natural gas exploded, severely burning him and causing his serious injuries. Responsibility for the explosion was denied by the defendants. But expert discovery and thorough facts resulted in denial of the defendants’ motion for summary judgement.

Over the course of the litigation, which spanned 4 years, the client underwent more than 75 surgical procedures and spent months in a regional burn center near the site of the accident before being transferred to a unit in his home state of Tennessee. His sheer dedication and determination to return to his regular life, coupled with his occupational therapist’s persistence and motivation, is a true inspiration to his medical providers and also his lawyers. He is currently living independently and doing well.

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