It was September 9th, right around dinnertime.
A thunderous roar was heard for miles.
A natural gas line exploded ripping through San Bruno, California.
For hours, the ruptured pipeline sent a fireball raging 60 feet into the air.
When the flames were gone, 37 homes had been destroyed and 8 people had been killed.
The Contact Five Investigators wanted to know whether a similar tragedy could strike South Florida, and whether there is danger when pipeline runs through your backyard.
The Investigators studied local maps and found—pipeline, almost a million miles of it, quietly running under popular roads that you live on and travel on every single day.
“It's not uncommon for us to respond to gas leak emergencies once or twice a week" said Captain Ken Wooldridge with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Battalion 9.
Wooldridge is part of a special ops team called in to tackle gas leaks.
"The majority of emergencies that we handle regarding gas leaks are ones where a piece of heavy equipment, such as a front loader or backhoe, accidentally struck an underground gas pipe and has created a leak," Wooldridge said.
The pipes he faces in the field are plastic, usually small in diameter. Not the size of those that exploded in San Bruno.
"It's actually extremely rare that you have an incident like that happen," said Florida Public Utilities Vice President Kevin Webber.
He says the industry is strictly regulated by the federal government when it comes to pipeline maintenance.
"They do go around with trucks and actually survey every foot of pipe they have in the ground every year to make sure it’s maintained," said Webber.
But the NTSB found in a preliminary study of San Bruno that the power company there, Pacific Gas and Electric, was actually performing maintenance some 30 miles away the day of the blast. The study suggests there was a loss of the electrical signal in the system and that may have caused changes in pressure of the pipes.
The investigators followed pipelines from the Port of Palm Beach and a nearby terminal.
We followed the lines on a map and found they surround a neighborhood just west of I-95 right near the Beeline Highway.
The Investigators found Florida Power and Light owns several of the lines. One of them is a 30 inch pipe installed back in 1978. It carries liquid petroleum from the port to a terminal. The pipeline runs right along a row of homes.
Another pipeline in the area west of I-95 is a 6-inch natural gas pipeline commissioned in 1986.
A third pipeline is 18 inches in diameter and was built in 1979. We found it also carries liquid petroleum.
FPL told NewsChannel Five:
"We implemented an integrity management program for fuel moved through our lines starting in 2003. We use advanced leak detection systems to monitor our pipelines and ensure proper pressure and flow rates 24 hours per day, seven days a week," said FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz.
Captain Wooldridge says his crew has never faced down flames powered by a major gas line eruption like the one in San Bruno, but if that call ever comes, he says the response is simple.
"If we get a rupture in one of those pipes then normally our job is life safety at that point…we've got to get everybody in an area and sometimes outlying areas evacuated," Wooldridge said.
Natural gas experts here in Florida say that scenario isn’t likely. Gas has only been in Florida since late 50s, so Florida’s pipelines really aren't that old.
It is important to know where gas lines and other buried lines are in your neighborhood.
A program called Call Before You Dig will help you locate those lines. The number to dial is: 8-1-1. This is a free service. For more information on this program go to: http://www.callsunshine.com
If you would like to learn whether large pipeline runs through your neighborhood. Check out the national pipeline mapping system website: http://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/
And for more information on Natural Gas in Florida check out: http://www.fpuc.com
Copyright (c) 2010 The E. W. Scripps Company
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