Allentown Explosion Revives Pipeline Fears
Country's aging infrastructure could cause more disasters
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2011 10:29 AM CST
In this Feb. 9, 2011 photo, emergency crews respond to a massive explosion in a residential neighborhood of downtown Allentown, Pa.   (AP Photo/Express-Times, Chris Post)

(Newser) – If the massive explosion that killed five people and damaged 47 buildings in Allentown Pennsylvania Wednesday was, as authorities suspect, a natural gas blast, it will be the third major gas explosion in the country since fall, the Wall Street Journal observes. That apparent pattern has revived fears that the nation’s aging gas pipelines—some of which are underground and hence difficult to inspect—could become a major problem.

The Allentown pipeline, for example, has been in use since 1928. It underwent a routine safety check just a day before the blast—which “typically consists of a truck slowly driving down the street with a gas detector,” a spokesman for UGI Utilities said. One California congresswoman introduced legislation last month that would mandate more rigorous checks, and improvements like remote shut-off valves. Those would have come in handy in Allentown; rescue crews, who had to hack through ice and concrete, weren’t able to shut off the gas until five hours after the blast.