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Major Gas Explosions in the United States

Updated on May 6, 2013


In the United States, Natural gas powers many of our homes, offices and other buildings. It is one of the most used forms of energy that the world has to offer. Underground, thousands of miles of pipeline route this gas to where it needs to go. We also use tanks to store the gas that is transported above ground. While pipelines and tanks allow us to use the natural gas more efficiently, the possibility of accidents are still present. Unfortunately, we have experienced major accidents including the 1927 Pittsburgh gas explosion, 1998 St. Cloud explosion and most recently the 2010 San Bruno explosion.

1927 Pittsburgh explosion

The Pittsburgh gasometer explosion, or the Equitable Gas explosion was an accident that took place in 1927. During that time, Pittsburgh was home to the largest gasometer, or gas tank. The tank developed a leak, and a crew of repairmen were sent to repair it. In an effort to find the location of the leak, a member of the crew used an open flame blowtorch for illumination. As a result, the flame ignited the contents, causing the 20-story-tall tank to shoot up into the air and explode. 28 people died and hundreds more were injured due to falling glass and debris. At the time, it was the largest disaster involving a tank in the world.

1998 St. Cloud explosion

In 1998, a work crew in St. Cloud, Minnesota was installing a utility pole support anchor, an underground gas pipeline was accidentally punctured and caused an explosion. The blast killed 4 people, 11 injuries, and destroyed six buildings. The damages incurred $399,000 dollars’ worth of damage. A resulting investigation found Cable Constructors, Inc., whose employees ruptured the gas line, were at fault due to their sub-par procedures and training. Unfortunately, the pipeline ruptured did not have an excess flow valve to limit the gas leaked. The St. Cloud fire department also shared blame for not following proper procedure responding to the blaze.

2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion

In 2010, a 30-inch diameter steel piece of gas pipeline exploded in the Crestmoor neighborhood of San Bruno, a city in the San Mateo County of Northern California. After the initial explosion a ruptured gas pipe continued to feed the flames, creating a wall of fire some witnesses described as more than 1’000 feet high. It took 60 to 90 minutes to shut off the gas after the explosion, although the fires that resulted continued to burn for several hours. The combination of the explosion and gas fires completely destroyed 35 homes and damaged many more. The explosion caused 8 deaths, and 58 injuries. The aftermath of the disaster caused huge public uproar over the condition of the pipes and held the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, owner of the pipes, responsible. Investigations have determined that faulty welds and a lack of automatic shut off valves were the cause of the disaster.


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    • KickStart1 profile image

      Andrew Armstrong 4 years ago from San Francisco, California

      Thanks for reading, Gawth! I actually don't have ties to Pittsburgh (I'm in the Bay Area, close to San Bruno) but I'm gonna read up on the fracking you talked about, might do a hub on it. Great idea!

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 4 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      Interesting Hub. I'm guessing you have ties to the Pittsburgh areas. Lots of pipelines all through that country. New wells completed by fracking are going to require a lot more pipelines. It's probably a good thing because there are some old ones that really need replacing.