By Ron Marasco
Natural gas explosions like the one in Kansas City can happen anywhere there's a gas line. It's important to know what you can do to prevent gas leaks, and what to do if you ever smell natural gas.
"It's a wonderful energy resource natural gas is, and if it's conveyed properly it is relatively safe," said Ben Booth, manager of public relations and communications with Iowa One Call.
But if something goes wrong, the consequences can be deadly.
"A lot of times it's just human error," said Des Moines Fire Captain Steve Brown. "People are working on things. We've had cars hit gas meters, somebody's putting in a new fence in their back yard."
To keep dangerous situations from happening here in Iowa, there's the mandatory Iowa One Call system.
"Even pounding a stake into the ground or putting a fence post in, you must notify the Iowa One Call system at least 48 hours prior to doing that type of work."
It's easy and free. Just call 811 and they'll check their database of thousands of miles of underground pipe, wire and cable. Utility companies in the state are required to give Iowa One Call their underground design plans.
"If you rupture a natural gas line it doesn't turn itself off," said Booth. "Natural gas will continue to flow and like water will follow the path of least resistance."
And that could be right up to your meter and then spread into your home or business.
"First thing you do, call 9–1–1," said Capt. Brown of the Des Moines Fire Dept. "We'll ventilate the building, open some windows, try and get those gas levels down."
Captain Brown says they respond once or twice a month to a gas leak. But in his 26 years, He's never seen what Kansas City saw Tuesday.
"We've never had an explosion," said Brown. "We've had some natural gas mains have fire on them, but no explosions."
The biggest piece of advice: If you think you smell natural gas in your home or business, get out of your house and stay out before calling 9–1–1.
Below are additional tips on how to keep safe around natural gas:
- Check all venting systems to the outside of your home, including furnace, dryer and water heater vents and chimney flues to ensure they are not blocked. If vents or flues become blocked, carbon monoxide may build to dangerous levels.
- Customers should avoid plowing or piling snow against meters or gas regulators and vents.
- Use a broom rather than a shovel to clear snow from your meter or gas regulator.
- If your meter or gas regulator becomes encased in ice, do not try to melt or chip the ice.
- In a safe manner from the ground, carefully remove icicles on the section of your roof or gutter that overhangs the meter. Water dripping on meters or gas regulators can freeze and cover the equipment with ice.
- For customers whose meters have not been upgraded to automated meter reading, clear a path to your meters. A clear path to the meter will help utility company meter readers stay safe and prevent estimated reads and inaccurate bills.
- Customers should call 811 before excavating or digging. Iowans are required to contact 811 with excavation information at least 48 hours before beginning any digging project. Failing to abide by this law could result in serious injury or property damage.
- There are many instances in which 811 should be called, including putting stakes, posts or fences into the ground; planting trees or shrubs; installing terracing or other landscaping; putting in a new driveway; building additions to a home, including decks or patios; or installing a water drainage or septic system. Most routine garden activities do not require a call.
- The person or company responsible for the physical excavation at the site must make the call; 811 is a free service. After an 811 call has been placed, personnel will notify facility operators, who will locate and mark underground electrical, gas, communications/television, water and sewer facilities. Privately owned underground facilities are not marked by utility companies.
- In the event of physical contact with or damage to underground facilities, customers should call emergency services at 911 and then call 811 to report the incident. Even the smallest dent or scratch to an underground facility may result in serious structural failure and the possibility of dangerous future incidents.