Gas utilities can make better use of their inspection budgets.
Griffith R. Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a managing director with FMI Corp., and Kenneth M. Loflin (kennethloflin@ comcast.net) is managing partner at KML & Co.
True story: Early one crisp spring morning, a damaged electric distribution line arced onto a natural gas pipeline that it was directly touching. The pipe began leaking and natural gas migrated down the trench, where it met a French drain leading to the cellar of a brand-new home. As the family slept above, the cellar filled with gas, reaching the correct mixture for combustion. When the house’s sump-pump switched on, the house exploded, throwing the two children out the windows and onto the lawn while the mother and father burned.
Such a tragic event could have been avoided by ensuring a minimal clearance between the electric line and the natural gas pipe.
The natural gas company began a forensic investigation of the incident. The house that exploded was one of 700 gas and electric installations that were already finished in a new subdivision of 3,000 homes. Initially the company dug up 30 installations, but from these investigators knew enough to dig up all the installations in the subdivision.
The cost of the incident was enormous in terms of the tragedy to human life, as well as in operating and construction costs, the company’s reputation, legal liabilities, regulatory oversight and inter-company coordination in new construction. Since the impacts can be vast in scope for any company, management’s first job is to know the risk by measuring it, and second, if needed, to fix it.