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Public Utilities Commission offers safety tips if you suspect a gas leak

The series of gas explosions in Massachusetts is raising a number of questions about the safety of natural gas, and an aging infrastructure system across the country. (WBZ)

PORTLAND (WGME) -- The series of gas explosions in Massachusetts is raising a number of questions about the safety of natural gas, and an aging infrastructure system across the country.

Gas explosions like the one in Massachusetts are rare, but when they happen they often involve older cast iron pipes, one reason why Unitil is replacing them, like on Concord St. in Portland.

This is part of a major project, upgrading more than 100 miles of underground pipe in Portland and Westbrook.

“We want to make sure we're making replacement before it becomes a safety issue, and that's what our project is here,” Unitil’s Alec O’Meara said.

The NTSB says nearly 2.5 million miles of pipelines crisscross the country, with half of it installed before 1970.

O'Meara says he understands there are a lot of concerns and questions after deadly gas line explosions tore through communities north of Boston Thursday night.

“Natural gas is safe, we work very closely, we make sure our system is managed safely we have a number of safeguards on our system,” O’Meara said.

Investigators say the explosions likely happened because of over pressurization of a gas main that belongs to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

"You can't expect that your streets are going to be blowing up homes in your neighborhoods,” Emergency Management’s Paul Brennan said. “And fires are going to be in basements, and it's going to go to community to community."

O'Meara says Unitil has built in safeguards to control pressure with its gas mains, and a dispatch center monitors it 24 hours a day.

“They're able to monitor the system pressure on a whole, they can monitor system wide, but also individual regulator stations,” O’Meara said.

The pipe replacement is now in Year 8 of 14 and is expected to be done in 2024.

The Public Utilities Commission says if you suspect a gas leak:

  • Leave your home or the area right away.
  • Don't use your phone or anything that could generate a spark.
  • Once safely outside, call 911 and the natural gas or propane supplier.
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