2 more underground gas leaks found near home explosion

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by KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on September 28, 2011 at 1:11 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 28 at 5:08 PM

 SEATTLE – Puget Sound Energy said Wednesday that crews found two more gas leaks underground in the system near the Pinehurst home that exploded Monday, bringing the total number of gas leaks in the area to ten in roughly 72 hours.

Officials with the utility said they believe the ten total leaks, which have sprung since Sunday afternoon, are likely connected to a downed tree and power outage in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood.

Three gas leaks were discovered on Sunday, one gas leak on Monday (which led to the explosion), four were discovered Tuesday and two were found underground overnight Tuesday.  The most recent leaks were discovered at residences in the 900 block of NE 117th Street and 11700 block of 17th Avenue NE.

PSE crews were conducting the second around-the-clock survey of the five-square-mile area in the neighborhood. The company continues to work with state pipeline safety officials on the investigation into the house explosion.

"We haven't found anything serious and dangerous like we found here Sunday and Monday," Andy Wappler with PSE said.

In regards to what caused the explosion that sent debris flying a block away and injured two residents inside, Wappler said the tree prompted the transmission of electricity through a steel pipe system, puncturing holes throughout.

“The holes in the pipes are very distinctive, broken out metal, and very different than a pipe that has aged or corroded,” Wappler said.

However, another PSE spokesperson said three of four leaks found Tuesday have been ruled out as being caused by the downed tree and energized pipe.  Workers admit the latest are most likely maintenance related.

He described the system as “safe,” even as contractors worked to detect and fix the leaks within a five-mile radius. The pipe network was last inspected and passed in 2008. PSE crews will continue inspections Wednesday.

However, Al Jones, a pipeline safety engineer who has been inspecting the affected area, said it’s too early to rush to judgment. 

“The nature of what cause this hasn’t been identified.  There are several theories,” said Jones. “We’re not sure until we have the parts together.”

Jones said the commission will look at welds, insulation, and grounding systems, in addition to the electrical surge theory.

But, attorney David Benninger, who took the utility company to court following a deadly 2004 Bellevue explosion, believes PSE needs to improve it's survey techniques.

"PSE and any utility has an obligation to be proactive, not just react to problems, but have a consistent maintenance program," Benninger said.

Diane Smith, who watched contractors tear apart her yard to fix a leak, said she’s not taking any chances.

“I want it off,” said Smith.  “They say it’s no big deal.  But I’m uncomfortable, and I’ve felt that way.”

Meanwhile, one of the two victims from Monday's explosion, David Ingham, was released from Harborview Medical Center Tuesday. His wife, Hong Ingham, remains hospitalized, last listed in serious condition.

KING 5's Chris Daniels and Jim Forman contributed to this report.  

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