Richard Williams lived in an historic home in Shreveport, Louisiana. The home – and the cast iron natural gas main supplying the home – were built in 1911. The pipe cracked in 2016, allowing the gas to accumulate in a storage shed behind the home. Williams investigated a strong odor of gas in his backyard – with a lit cigar in his mouth – and the subsequent explosion killed him (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
An Internet search will reveal numerous natural gas explosions which have occurred over the last few decades as a result of ancient and faulty pipes. Since 1990, approximately 264 people have died due to natural gas accidents (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
In 1991, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began a program to mandate pipeline operators to replace cast iron natural gas pipes and to protect existing pipes from excavation. This has been a slow process because “the work is expensive, often difficult, and sometimes perilous” (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
Richard Williams and his neighbors had complained for a year about a terrible gas smell in the neighborhood. When Centerpoint Energy finally came out and fixed the service line which was connected to the gas main and the meter, they neglected to fill in the hole they had dug. The pipe began to leak again, and this was later attributed to “improper backfill” (Wooten & Korte, 2018) of the hole. Williams’ brother, a lawyer, contends that Centerpoint Energy and the city of Shreveport are at fault because they “were negligent in maintaining the gas pipes . . . [and it was] Centerpoint’s choice not to remove dangerous cast iron pipes from its system, even though Centerpoint knew just how deadly they were” (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
According to the United States Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, “10% of the incidents occurring on gas distribution mains involved cast iron mains . . . [even though] only 2% of distribution mains are cast iron” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).
Why are cast iron pipes so dangerous? Cast iron is vulnerable to graphitization, which makes the metal more brittle. Any kind of earth movement can cause the pipe to crack and start leaking. Furthermore, “cast iron pipelines were linked using bell and spigot joints with packing material stuffed in the bell to form a gas tight seal” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020). When dry gas replaced wet manufactured gas, the packing material dried out, causing leakage. Operators have used clamping and encapsulation to repair these joint leaks, but repairs do not solve the problem. Cast iron pipes – and other ancient pipes – need to be replaced altogether (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).
According to Wooten and Korte, “more than 53,000 miles of natural gas mains were built before 1940 . . . Decades of freezing and thawing, corrosion, vibration, and shifting soil can eat away at the cast iron and untreated steel pipes that were once the state of the art in natural gas distribution” (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
Other causes can include excavations by workers or homeowners; incorrectly installed pipes; incorrectly jointed pipes – and it can take years for the problem to become apparent and reach crisis dimensions. Approximately 85,000 miles of cast iron pipes and bare-steel pipes remain in service, posing a hidden danger to humans and structures alike (Wooten & Korte, 2018).
U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020). Cast and wrought iron inventory. Retrieved from
Wooten, N. & Korte, G. (2018, November). Pipeline peril: Natural gas explosions reveal silent
danger lurking in old cast iron pipes. Shreveport Times. Retrieved from
Dawn Pisturino, RN
November 17, 2020
Copyright 2020 - 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.
Thomas Edison State University
NOTE: This is the kind of national infrastructure that Joe Biden and the Democrats should be concentrating on instead of playing politics with people's lives and spending trillions of dollars on nonsensical wish list projects.