The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) supported the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PA PUC) during its investigation of this devastating pipeline incident.
PHMSA holds all pipeline operators accountable for remaining in compliance with Federal pipeline safety regulations. In most States, PHMSA has forged a partnership with a State Agency to oversee gas pipelines operating solely within the State. UGI Utilities pipelines are subject to regulation by the PA PUC, PHMSA’s gas pipeline safety partner in Pennsylvania.
The UGI Corporation, headquartered in Valley Forge, PA, owns UGI Utilities and numerous other energy-related companies. UGI Utilities operates 269 miles of gas transmission pipelines and 17,758 miles of gas distribution pipelines in eastern, northeastern, and central Pennsylvania. These pipelines provide natural gas to over 563,000 customers.
UGI Utilities Pipeline Failure and Consequences
On February 9, 2011 at 10:45 p.m., a tragic explosion occurred on North 13th Street in Allentown, PA. Local emergency responders worked to limit the spread of the fire while UGI Utilities cut through reinforced concrete to access the gas main. Gas flow to the leak was completely shut off at 3:40 a.m. the next morning. UGI Utilities reported the leak to the National Response Center (NRC) just after midnight on the 9th. As a result of the explosion and ensuing fire, 5 people lost their lives, 3 people required in-patient hospitalization, and 8 homes were destroyed. UGI Utilities estimated the property damage from the rupture to be $2.5 million.
Cast and Wrought Iron Pipelines
At the end of 2009, plastic and steel pipe made up approximately 97% of the mileage of natural gas distribution pipelines in the US. The remaining 3% is primarily iron pipe, either cast, wrought or ductile iron. The leaking pipeline in Allentown is made of cast iron and was installed in 1928. In August 1991, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation on cast iron pipelines to PHMSA’s predecessor administration. The NTSB recommended that PHMSA require pipeline operators to implement a program to identify and replace cast iron pipelines that may threaten public safety. PHMSA issued two Advisory Bulletins related to cast iron replacement programs and the NTSB closed its recommendation in October 1992. Operators have developed cast iron pipeline replacement programs based on their unique circumstances. At the end of 2009, there were 14.2% less miles of cast iron/wrought pipelines in the US than at the end of 2004.
- NTSB Recommendation to RSPA
- RSPA Alert Notice 91-02
- RSPA Alert Notice 92-02
- NTSB Closure of Recommendation to RSPA
UGI Utilities Cast and Wrought Iron Pipelines
Since 2002, 57% of UGI Utilities’ capital investment was directed to replacing existing pipe. This includes an average investment of $20 million each year toward the replacement of cast iron pipe. At the end of 2009, UGI Utilities had 16.1% less miles of cast/wrought iron main than at the end of 2004.
PA PUC Investigation
The PA PUC conducted an investigation to determine the cause of the leak and conduct a pipeline safety regulatory compliance review of UGI Utilities. PHMSA offered to assist the PA PUC as its investigation progresses.