Safety Questions Raised About Oklahoma Pipelines After California Blast

Monday, September 13th 2010, 8:46 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6 

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – A natural gas explosion in California last Thursday, September 9, 2010, has focused attention on aging natural gas pipelines across the country.

Oklahoma is home to more than 50,000 miles of pipeline, some of which were installed in the 1930's. Maintaining their integrity requires a team of inspectors working year-round.

Residents of one San Bruno, California neighborhood returned to the smoldering remains of their homes several days after the massive fire.

"I can't get that roaring sound out of my mind, and that big boom, and the sight of that enormous blast of fire," one homeowner said.

The pipeline that exploded belongs to Pacific Gas and Electric and was laid down in 1948. Its part a network that runs throughout California and one that pales in comparison to Oklahoma's. According to the Energy Information Administration, Oklahoma has some of the oldest and largest systems in the country.

"The state of Oklahoma looks at just our share, something in the neighborhood of 40,000 miles of pipeline," said Dennis Fothergill, Pipeline Safety Department.

The Corporation Commission is responsible for monitoring those 40,000 miles. It says there are an additional 12,000 miles of interstate pipelines that are regulated by the federal government.

In an effort avoid a catastrophe like the one in San Bruno, the Corporation Commission deploys a team of ten inspectors across the state. Each pipeline must be inspected once every three years.

The vast majority of them belong to Oklahoma Natural Gas. No one from the company was available for an interview, but its website says the integrity of its pipelines is one of its top priorities.