On March 18th, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski spoke at a panel discussion on pipeline safety in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was asked to represent the National League of Cities (NLC) at the public meeting which was held to gain a perspective from local government on the impact of exemptions in state one-call laws on safety.
“I’m happy to represent the National League of Cities in this important discussion,” said Pawlowski. “This is a very important safety issue in our municipalities. We have had far too many fatalities stemming from natural gas explosions. One life lost is too many, and these tragic deaths could have been avoided if we had made pipeline safety a bigger priority in the past. We need to get all municipal leaders on board to avoid any further tragedies caused by problems from old or damaged pipelines.”
The NLC was requested to participate by the US DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The panel also included representatives from the National Association of Counties, the American Public Works Association, The American Farm Bureau Association and the American Association of Railroads.
Excavation damage is a leading cause of pipeline accidents and Congress has directed to PHMSA to study the impact of exemptions on public safety. The One-Call Law mandates that anyone digging in the ground call a hotline number to determine which, if any, underground utility lines are present. Most states require hand digging within two feet of any known underground utility line in order to prevent damage to any underground line or pipe.
In May 1994 an excavation crew bent a natural gas line leading to the Gross Towers housing complex in the 1300 block of W. Allen Street while removing a buried heating oil tank. The company left the pipe uncovered and unsupported until damaging it again in early June. That night, a gap in the gas line caused gas to flow into the complex, triggering two explosions and a fire. One person was killed and 60 others were injured.
Pawlowski chairs a US Conference of Mayors Pipeline Safety Task Force and is working with San Bruno, California Mayor Jim Ruane to define and develop a national mayors’ council.
San Bruno and Allentown have been devastated by recent deadly natural gas explosions and fires. A September 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes, and badly damaged 70 more. A February 2011 natural gas explosion in Allentown killed five people and destroyed eight homes.