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TMCNet:  Avista says area gas lines are safe [Lewiston Tribune, Idaho :: ]

[April 12, 2014]

Avista says area gas lines are safe [Lewiston Tribune, Idaho :: ]

(Lewiston Morning Tribune (ID) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 12--Even though a search of the Internet can be frightening, with hundreds of natural gas accidents reported each year, a representative for the local utility said the system that serves the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is safe.


The network is relatively young, said Mike Tatko, regional business manager for Avista. And it is carefully built and maintained, he said, with properly installed lines that are made from the right materials. A robust inspection program checks each line at least every five years.

"We're finding that age isn't necessarily the decision maker on whether we're going to upgrade or replace a line," Tatko said, noting that the average age of gas pipes in Lewiston is 30 years. "We have some of our line that is probably just as good as the day it was put in, because it's protected." But many high-profile incidents have some customers and critics questioning the safety of the country's natural gas infrastructure. Most recently, a devastating explosion in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City leveled two buildings and killed eight people. Officials blamed that blast on an old, leaky cast-iron pipe.

Tatko said that isn't a problem for Avista.

"In our world, we don't have cast-iron natural gas pipes," he said. "We have plastic and steel pipes that have been proven to be less susceptible to leaks." Cast-iron natural gas transmission and distribution systems are antiquated and prone to leaking at pipe unions, he said, and are predominantly found on the East Coast. In addition to using more reliable materials, Avista also buries its lines in finely ground rock that has no sharp edges that could potentially cause damage.

Government statistics document the relatively safe track record of the natural gas networks in Washington and Idaho. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 2,604 incidents related to natural gas distribution between 1994 and 2013, resulting in 289 deaths, 1,086 injuries and nearly $1 billion in property damage.

In Washington, there were 20 incidents between 2004 and 2013, resulting in one death, eight injuries and $2.5 million in property damage. Idaho's statistics for the same period were even lower, with seven incidents, no deaths or injuries, and $2 million in property damage.

Tatko said Avista works closely with the public utility commissions in each state, and follows their regulations. Still, there are critics of the regulatory system who claim the commissions aren't active enough, and leave it to the utilities to run inspections.

But Tatko said Avista follows one of the most stringent schedules in the industry: Business districts, high-occupancy structures and high-pressure mains are surveyed annually, and residential areas are surveyed every five years.

"We also do special surveys if we have any reason for concern, such as recent road construction," he said. "So for instance, if road construction has taken place near a gas line, we would survey that area to ensure the lines were not disturbed during construction." Avista's oldest local natural gas lines are likely in downtown Lewiston, although several runs were replaced during the rebuilding of First and Fifth streets last year. Tatko said the company has opted out of participating in the federally funded reconstruction of the downtown stormwater system, while the city of Lewiston is seizing the opportunity to work on other infrastructure while the streets are torn up.

"We determined that as of right now, that distribution system was not at risk," Tatko said, "so we decided not to go about replacing it or updating it." Construction on the downtown stormwater work isn't set to begin until 2015, so Tatko said that decision could change in the interim. He also took the opportunity to remind residents to call two days before they do any digging so Avista can send someone to locate buried gas and electric lines. Those who need to can call 811, or visit call811.com to make an appointment.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2266.

___ (c)2014 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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