Before explosions, Piedmont deemed gas lines safePosted: Updated:
A Channel 4 I-Team Investigation found two natural gas lines that exploded in Nashville had both been inspected by Piedmont Natural Gas and were found to be safe.
The I-Team has also uncovered that the Tennessee Regulatory Agency has fined Piedmont $15,000 for failing to inspect one of the pipes that exploded because it had pre-existing damage and should had not been allowed in the ground.
The first explosion on May 17, 2007, was at the south Nashville home of Sandra Daum. The home was completely blown apart, and Daum was hospitalized.
The second explosion was in Aug. 2, 2012, in the parking lot of the Church of Jesus Christ. The blast sent concrete blocks raining down on the church and destroyed several cars at a nearby car dealership.
A Channel 4 I-Team Investigation found that in both cases, Piedmont had been made aware of problems at each site before the explosions, had inspected and found everything to be OK.
"You've had two explosions in a six-year period. Does that sound like a good track record to you?" asked I-Team chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.
"Even one is too many," said Keith Napier, Piedmont managing director of Utility Operations.
Daum sued Piedmont and claimed she told the company two years before the explosion that she smelled gas outside her home.
Piedmont came out and fixed a leak inside her home and did regular inspections of the lines outside her home every six months and found no problems.
R. J. Hill, a forensic mechanical engineer hired by Daum, later found a major crack in the line directly in front of the house and determined that was the reason for the explosion.
"This one got away from them, there's no question about that," Hill said.
Piedmont denied making any mistakes and the case was settled out of court.
And in the Bordeaux explosion, the Channel 4 I-Team uncovered that in August 2011, Piedmont found what they call a minor gas leak on the riser outside the church.
They then returned in March 2012 and inspected all the lines outside the church.
Six months after that, the line exploded, severely damaging the Church of Jesus Christ next door.
"To say it's been checked, and then you have something of that magnitude ... it does shake you," said Bishop Fred Matthews Jr.
"There was an inspection of this line just six months prior, and still it exploded. Is there a problem there?" Finley asked Piedmont.
"With this pipeline, we did a lot of research and analysis, and we do believe this is an isolated case," Napier said.
Napier said in the Bordeaux explosion, the minor gas leak by the church wasn't connected to the line that ultimately exploded.
An independent outside investigator determined that the pipe that exploded had been damaged decades before, even before it was ever put in the ground.
The TRA fined Piedmont $15,000 for failing to notice the pre-existing damage to the pipe.
"This type of incident is very rare," Napier said.
After seeing the explosion in Bordeaux, construction foreman Bruce King came to the Channel 4 I-Team with video and photographs of how his crew accidentally hooked onto a natural gas line with a backhoe and scraped and bent it.
King alerted Piedmont to the accident, and they inspected and deemed it was safe to keep in the ground.
The line is currently under Pleasant Grove Road in Mt. Juliet, surrounded by businesses.
"I think we've been really lucky that there hasn't been a problem out there yet," King said.
"How can a gas line that's been damaged by a back hoe, even bent, be safe enough to keep in the ground?" Finley asked Piedmont.
"By going out and observing this pipeline, looking at it, the integrity of the pipeline was not compromised," Napier said.
Piedmont did pay the state fine for the Bordeaux explosion.
Napier said they are implementing new technology, already in use in some areas, that allows them to send devices into pipes to check for problems from the inside.
Currently, they are using devices that work from the outside to detect leaks.
Napier said their twice yearly inspections of all gas lines are effective and these explosions are just unique cases.
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