Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harlem Gas Explosion: How Widespread Is the Problem?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Harlem Gas Explosion: How Widespread Is the Problem?

Article excerpt

Two century-old East Harlem tenements were completely destroyed on March 12 after a natural gas leak sparked an explosion that leveled the five-story brick building, killing eight people and injuring more than 60 others. The buildings were part of a bustling area on the northern reaches of Manhattan's famed Park Avenue, housing working-class families as well as the store-front sanctuary of a Spanish-language church and a piano repair store.

1. What happened, exactly?As of Monday, city officials and federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, which probes all serious gas-line incidents, had yet to begin their investigation into the exact cause of the leak and subsequent explosion. New York City firefighters were still removing rubble from the explosion site.

But residents and neighbors say they had complained numerous times about the smell of leaking gas - including a call just minutes before the Wednesday morning blast that sent tons of debris onto the streets and the elevated commuter railroad tracks directly across the street. More than 100 residents of nearby buildings remain homeless.

2. Is natural gas inherently more dangerous than home heating oil?The vast majority of fatalities and injuries related to the nation's network of fuel-delivery pipelines (both oil and natural gas) are gas-related. In 2013, there were 10 fatalities and 46 injuries related to pipeline-related incidents, and nine of the deaths and 39 of the injuries were caused by gas-delivery pipelines, according to the federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Even a small gas leak in an enclosed space can spark a catastrophic explosion. During the past 10 years, gas explosions have caused an estimated $75 million a year in property damages.

3. How widely is natural gas used in the US?By almost every measure, natural gas is cheaper, cleaner-burning, and more efficient than other heating fuels. For every $100 spent for natural gas, a household or business would spend around $350 for oil or electric heating, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In all, natural gas accounts for almost one-fourth of total US energy consumption, with more than 71 million residential, commercial, and industrial natural gas customers, according to the American Gas Association. …

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