The TrickyScribe: Aftermath of a natural gas disaster can be unbelievably grim—sky-high sheets of flame, massive structures gone in seconds. World got to see the devastating signature of a gas blast in Mexico wherein the death toll mounted as the number of people who died from a gasoline pipeline explosion in central Mexico last week has risen to 94.
The explosion took place as about 800 people in Tlahuelilpan district of Hidalgo state were collecting gasoline that was gushing out from a pipeline leak near a major refinery. Central Mexico was hit hard by gasoline crunch after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a crackdown on fuel theft almost a month back, ordering pipelines closed in an effort to stamp out criminal activity.
Similar disasters occur in different ways with varying levels of damage, right from shattered window glass to a screaming flame-jet that carbonizes rows of houses. This needs to be tested with a pinch of salt by the developing economies that are plunging in massive wealth in the construction of such pipelines.
India to spend Rs 70,000 crore for gas pipeline network
Indian government is all set to spend Rs 70,000 crore to spread gas pipelines across the country and is working out plans to expand gas network to Myanmar through Bangladesh as the central government is promoting gas based economy which needs a massive network of pipelines for transportation of natural gas to various corners of the country.
“In the first phase Rs 70,000 crore will be invested to spread gas pipeline network across the country,” Indian petroleum minister, Dharmendra Pradhan said while addressing the 19th National Conference on Corrosion Control that aims at analysing various industrial corrosion problems and provide a platform for interaction among industrialists, scientists, engineers and professionals. Pradhan said India is also planning to expand gas pipeline network to Myanmar through Bangladesh.
“Under this programme, pipelines are proposed to be constructed between Dhamra to Bangladesh and Siliguri to Bangladesh to export LNG gas according to the requirement of the neighbouring nation,” he said. South Eastern Region Pipelines (SERPL) is presently operating cross-country pipelines network of crude oil and refined products as well as LPG of 1570 kms length with 19.35 MMTPA capacity. Under this region, India Oil is having the biggest and largest crude oil handling facility at Paradip, which is feeding four most important refineries – Paradip, Haladia, Barauni and Bangaigaon.
As future expansion plans under SERPL, laying works of 1212 km Paradip-Hyderabad pipeline with capacity of 4.5 MMTPA is in progress. Moreover, preconstruction works for 360 km long Paradip-Dhamra-Haladia LNG pipeline and 345 km long Paradip-Somanathpur-Haladia pipeline are also under progress, said the Petroleum Minister.
Fundamental flaw with pipelines
Natural gas is conveyed over the land in pipes of different diameters and pressures. The problem begins when a pipe develops a leak or rupture due to aging infrastructure or construction work. In Lavezzo’s experience responding to calls last year, the two causes broke down to about 50/50.
Not exactly, but many major cities across the globe sit atop huge networks of antiquated, fragile, and hard-to-work-on gas lines. Researchers recently detected an incredible 5,900 natural-gas leaks under Washington, D.C.
Most troublesome sort of the pipes are made from cast iron and can predate World War II. The root of the problem is the cast-iron and wrought-iron pipe that gas companies used to build their distribution networks in many parts of the nation back in the early to mid-20th century. While strong, the iron pipes are vulnerable to corrosion, and their rigidity makes them susceptible to stresses, including pounding from construction and vehicle traffic above.
The task of replacing the aging gas pipes can seem like excavating the root system of a Giant Redwood with tweezers and a scalpel. That’s a drop in the bucket toward solving the national problem. There will always be construction workers who don’t know about underground pipes and dig into them (or know about them, and still manage to dig into the dang things).
A cigarette ember tossed into a sewer could trigger an explosion, or exposed wires in a telecommunications manhole. In a residence, it could be a frayed electrical cord, glitchy outlet, broken light bulb, poorly wired light switch, or any kind of motor with brushes in it. “Arsonists are the best for finding these things for you, if experts are to be believed.
Firefighters can respond only to shuffle around for an hour for a minor-or-nothing incident in the majority of calls for gas leaks. Utilities venting gas during tests provoke scads of false alarms in certain cases; in others, a utility can shut down a minor leak by simply turning a valve.
The putrid scent of mercaptan, a chemical added to natural gas and propane making it detectable, is one warning sign. If a leak is substantial enough, you might actually see the gas before it lights.