Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gas Leaks

Our own Richard Thompson wrote an article about the gas restoration component of last week's tornado damage for the APGA's newsletter, that I thought I'd share here.

On February 5, tornados struck Memphis and Shelby County late that afternoon, leaving thousands without power and causing 24 major gas leaks. Yet, all of the reported gas leaks were controlled and isolated by the 10 p.m. newscast that day. How so?

Experience, said Lamar Lusk, a customer service supervisor in field operations for Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.

“We’ve been through wind storms. We’ve had ice storms,” said Lusk, who works in Hickory Hill, where one of four MLGW service centers are located. Hickory Hill is an area of Memphis that suffered the most damage. “Through experience and training, we knew what to expect.”

Indeed, the storm left downed power lines, damaged gas meters and gas leaks in its wake. All expected. Crews were activated at 4:30 p.m.

While the MLGW service building was spared any heavy damage, crews inside the center took precautions while the storm passed before heading out to serve customers.

As soon as weather conditions were safe, MLGW crews began combing the streets looking for gas leaks. What crews found on the streets was damage to commercial buildings as multi-ton HVAC units had flown off of rooftops.

Customers in Hickory Hill were reporting gas leaks, and Lusk said utility crews also smelled gas in the air at Challenge Drive, where several warehouses among other structures took the brunt of a tornado.

“And we proceeded to go and eliminate the gas leaks,” Lusk said. As crews turned off the gas at the riser, he added, “People came up the hill (from an adjacent residential neighborhood) and were saying that they smelled gas.”

The smell of gas may have been blown over that neighborhood as it pushed out of two damage pipes at a nearby warehouse that had been destroyed. Those pipes were quickly valved off.

Still, as a precaution, MLGW crews checked every meter in the severely impacted area—be it commercial, industrial and residential—and turned off the meters if it showed consumption just in case. MLGW kept safety at the forefront because crews were unable to go inside of the buildings to take readings (which is standard procedure) because they were prevented by storm damages or no one was there to give them access late that evening.

Twenty to 25 Commercial Industrial meters were affected, but thankfully, no main line valves that would affect a large area had to be shut off. The reported gas leaks were controlled and isolated around 10 p.m. on Feb. 5, Lusk said.

Not long after that Tuesday, gas service was restored to impacted customers as they notified MLGW.

Overall, the February 5 storm system was deadly, killing three people in Memphis. More than 50 people were killed across five states. At one point, 64,000 MLGW customers were without power. Service was fully restored five days later with the help of 23 out-of-town crews, including workers from City Utilities in Springfield, Mo. MLGW suffered an estimated $6.5 million in damages and permanent repairs to its infrastructure could take months.

That storm occurred a week after Memphis and Shelby County had been struck by strong winds on January 29, which left 31,000 customers without power at one point. MLGW and five out-of-town crews worked around the clock, an estimated 58 hours, in order to fully restore service from that storm on February 1.

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