Friday, April 3, 2009

Separated service line blamed for fatal Montana natural gas explosion

BOZEMAN, Mont. - As investigators work to identify the cause of the March 5 gas leak that leveled half a city block, some Bozeman business owners are questioning whether downtown is safe.
Inspectors remain unsure about what prompted a two-inch service line behind Montana Trails Gallery to separate at a coupling about 11 feet from the meter, said NorthWest Energy spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch.
"There was a physical separation, almost like a break in the line," Rapkoch said. "This was not a pin-hole leak."
Investigators are evaluating variables such as frost and soil composition. The pipe will be sent to a metal lab agreed upon by NorthWestern and private insurers where investigators should be able to identify what prompted the separation.
Many of downtown Bozeman's steel gas lines were installed around 1930, not unusual compared to other communities across the nation, said Rick Kuprewicz, a pipeline expert and president of Accufacts Inc., an energy consulting firm in Redmond, Wash.
In the past two years in central Bozeman, at least two small natural gas leaks in Northwestern's lines have been repaired. One was in a "riser" - a piece of line extending out from the ground near the meter - behind LillyLu Children's Boutique and was repaired in the past several months. LillyLu was one of the businesses destroyed by the explosion.

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