Tag Archives: Allentown

Allentown, UGI differ over whether pace of gas pipeline replacement is enough

The gas pipe that leaked and is believed to have caused a massive gas explosion in Allentown nearly one year ago was first installed in 1928.

Eighty-three years old at the time, the pipe was slightly below the average age of the cast-iron pipelines running through the city.

Out of about 72 miles of cast-iron pipe in Allentown, the average pipeline age falls between 90 and 120 years, according to Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

One year after the Feb. 9, 2011, blast that claimed five lives and destroyed eight houses, Pawlowski said he thinks UGI is still not doing enough to speed up replacing the aging pipes.

The public utility company told a special U.S. Senate committee last year it would take 40 years to replace all of the city’s cast-iron pipes.

UGI officials say they have stepped up the pace at which they are replacing cast-iron pipe with high-density plastic in Allentown and the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

The company replaced seven miles of city gas main in 2011, UGI spokesman Joe Swope said. That’s more than the six miles it planned to replace, which itself is more than twice what the company had replaced the year before.

In 2012, UGI plans to replace seven and a half miles of pipeline, Swope said. That would leave about 64.5 miles of cast-iron pipe in the city.

But replacing pipeline costs about $650,000 per mile, and UGI officials have previously said they cannot replace gas lines at this pace every year.

Even if they stuck to six miles per year, Pawlowski said, it would take more than a decade to replace it all, which the mayor said is too long.

If undisturbed, cast-iron pipe can operate for years without problems. But as they age, they become less resilient and more susceptible to leaks, cracks and pressure from street traffic.

The new pipe installed by UGI is made of a sturdier high-density plastic, Swope said, which is often sleeved through the existing cast-iron pipe to create an additional layer of protection.

There are 217 miles of cast-iron pipe in the Lehigh Valley. That does not include 13 miles worth that were replaced in 2011, Swope said.

Since most of the Valley’s cast-iron pipeline falls outside Allentown, this is a regional concern, not a city issue, Pawlowski said.

As of 2010, UGI’s three utilities in Pennsylvania have 11,627.49 miles of pipeline statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Of that, 1,827.197 miles, or 15.71 percent, are either cast iron or bare steel, which PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher described as “risky pipeline.”

Swope said that since 2000, UGI has replaced more than 290 miles of cast-iron pipe systemwide, and the company spent $43 million on natural gas main and service replacements last year alone.

It will probably cost UGI about $4.9 million to replace the seven and a half miles of cast-iron pipeline it plans to replace this year in Allentown, Swope said.

Among the challenges in replacing older pipeline is finding construction crews qualified for the work and working with municipalities to determine which mains should be replaced in which order, he said.

There are 60,418 miles of pipeline throughout the state, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group

Of that, 47,051 are for gas distribution and service, 10,834 are gas transmission and 2,532 are hazardous liquid, according to the organization.

Nationally, 31 percent of gas distribution lines were installed prior to new regulations in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

SOURCE: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/allentown/index.ssf/2012/02/allentown_ugi_differ_over_whet.html

Pennsylvania Public Utility posts new rules for replacing aging pipelines

Noting the Feb. 9 natural gas explosion that killed five Allentown residents, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last week proposed requiring gas utilities to file plans outlining how much aging underground pipelines leak and when the utilities intend to replace them.

The PUC unanimously agreed without discussion to seek comments on the proposal, which was developed in light of “recent tragic incidents” as well as the growth of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells and changing federal gas safety regulations, a PUC statement said. Comments can be filed with the PUC up to Dec. 2.

“These plans will tentatively be required to include infrastructure replacement time frames and a proposal for the means by which the cost of the infrastructure replacement program should be addressed in rates,” PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson and Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr. said in joint statement.

Under the proposal, utilities would have to file pipeline replacement and performance plans. The plans should include a time frame for replacing aging pipelines and performance standards that include damage prevention, corrosion control and distribution system leaks, it said. Utilities would have to file plans next spring or summer, with final approval by the PUC late next year or early 2013.

Replacing old lines became a higher priority for Allentown on Feb. 9, after a pipeline owned by UGI Utilities installed in 1928 leaked, leading to the fatal blast at 13th and Allen streets. After the explosion, UGI released a plan showing it intended to replace six miles of old cast-iron pipeline in Allentown, more than doubling what it did in 2010. As of earlier this year, Allentown had 79 miles of cast-iron natural gas pipe beneath its streets and about 230 total in the Lehigh Valley.

UGI officials Thursday had not had an opportunity to consider the PUC’s action, said Daniel Adamo, business development director. “UGI will completely review the tentative order and will plan to comment by the deadline,” he said. “We believe it is our responsibility to safely deliver natural gas to our customers,” he added.

The commission action also requires gas utilities to provide distribution integrity management program plans, which are required by the federal government, with the PUC by Nov. 30. In 2009, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued new regulations that required gas distribution companies, such as UGI, to adopt written plans for continuous review of data to identify threats to pipeline systems, evaluating risks, and implementing measures to reduce risks.

As part of its proposed regulations, the PUC also plans to mandate “frost surveys,” which are leak surveys that utilities perform during cold weather months. The regulation would require frost surveys from Nov. 1 to April 30 each year. Previously, the PUC asked, but hadn’t mandated, frost surveys.

The leak surveys are to be conducted weekly or monthly, depending on the location and size of the line, the PUC said. The utilities would be required to report all leaks every other week and provide a schedule for repairing them, it said.

SOURCE: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-pennsylvania-puc-gas-pipeline-safety-20111110,0,1755685.story