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The issues with old piplines

Marketplace Staff Sep 13, 2010
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The issues with old piplines

Marketplace Staff Sep 13, 2010
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: California regulators have ordered Pacific Gas & Electric to survey all its natural gas pipelines. That’s after that awful scene last week in suburban San Francisco when one of the utility’s pipelines exploded killing at least four people. But it’s not the first case of old, exploding pipelines. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer is with us live from our studio in Washington with more. Good morning, Nancy.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So this isn’t the first time this has happened, right?

MARSHALL GENZER: Well, exactly. And part of the problem, as you mentioned — these are old pipelines we’re talking about. The one that exploded outside San Francisco was 54 years old. Now, utilities are responsible for maintaining these pipelines. They’re supposed to do regular inspections. I talked to Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund about this. He’s their point person on natural gas production issues. He says the utilities are good about inspecting the biggest pipelines that bring the gas from the fields to the cities, but it’s hard for them to keep track of the miles and miles of small lines.

SCOTT ANDERSON: And once you get to the city gate, of course, there needs to be a little pipe going to every individual consumer. So the distribution network — although the pipes are small — tends to have a very large number of miles.

And this isn’t just a problem in California. The Department of Transportation here in Washington says there are an average of six serious incidents a year involving gas pipelines, in which people are killed or injured.

CHIOTAKIS: So what can we do to prevent more of these, Nancy?

MARSHALL GENZER: Well Anderson says we need to invest more in our national infrastructure, and replace some of these old pipes, or at least inspect them more often. And, Steve, you and I as consumers need to be vigilant. If you smell natural gas and your stove is off, call your utility and ask them to come check things out. In fact, Anderson had to do that when he smelled natural gas in his front yard. Turns out there was a leak in the natural gas leading to his house. He called the utility and it was replaced.

CHIOTAKIS: Big red flag. All right. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer in Washington. Nancy, thanks.

MARSHALL GENZER: You’re welcome.

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