How Common Are Gas Explosion Injuries?
According to data released by the New York Times, in the past five years alone nearly 70 people have been killed and hundreds others injured in natural gas-related explosions. That number includes the more than 50 injuries and seven fatalities resulting from a late-September blast in San Bruno, California. Less than a week later, a similar explosion in Richfield, Minnesota, destroyed one home and damaged others close by. Amazingly, there were no injuries or deaths in the Minnesota gas explosion, but property damage will easily top a quarter of a million dollars.
Lack of Oversight a Cause for Concern
With winter rapidly approaching, more and more homeowners are rightfully concerned about the possibility of being closed up in a home while natural gas from a leak builds. Their concern is understandable, given the fact that safety experts are alarmed about the lack of oversight of the thousands of miles of natural-gas pipelines under America’s roads, houses and commercial buildings. According to the federal Government Accounting Office (GAO) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – the federal agency tasked with oversight of pipelines across the country – enforcement of state and federal pipeline-safety regulations is spotty and inconsistent.
Amazingly, a New York Times review of PHMSA data shows that a whopping one-third of the enforcement actions started in the past eight years are still pending, and that the number of fines issued by the PHMSA fell a staggering 40 percent between 2004 and 2009. Even some unresolved enforcement cases from the early 1990s have fallen through the cracks and have lingered open.
Of course, with inconsistent and wholly inadequate enforcement of inspection schedules and compliance checks comes problems. Pipeline owners – usually utility companies – can become lax in their line maintenance, letting pipes corrode, missing inspections and neglecting to mark their proper placement on maps, which opens the door to pipeline-owner employees themselves or those of other utilities (cable, phone and water companies) striking pipes during excavation.
The PHMSA has dramatically increased its oversight capabilities in the past two years by improving their recordkeeping processes databases and seeking additional authority from federal lawmakers to punish non-complying pipeline owners. Until such a time when pipeline owners are held accountable, however, accidents and explosions are likely to keep occurring with frightening regularity.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a natural-gas explosion, you should contact an experienced Minnesota Gas Explosion Lawyer in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.