7Investigates: Winter Gas Patrols

GLOUCESTER , MASS. (WHDH) - Aging natural gas pipes and frigid cold can be a catastrophic combination. Experts told 7News natural gas companies are not doing enough to prevent potential disaster during the most dangerous time of year for gas leaks and explosions.

Ten years ago, on a cold January morning, a natural gas explosion leveled Wayne Sargent’s home in Gloucester.

Sargent was a police officer at the time. He had just come home from work.

“I remember being engulfed in those flames,” Sargent said. “When I opened my eyes, I looked up and I saw the sky where the house should have been.”

Sargent suffered serious burns. His dog, Penny, was killed.

“I remember them telling me at the hospital, you can go home tomorrow, and the nurse had to stop, and I said, I have no home to go to,” Sargent said.

State investigators found the cause was a gas main in front of Sargent’s home.

The pipe was made of outdated cast iron. It had cracked due in part to freezing temperatures.

Mark McDonald, with NatGas Consulting, has responded to gas leaks for 25 years.

He says cast iron pipes are especially vulnerable to frost. Those pipes are all over Massachusetts.

“Cast iron was the worst, we knew, especially in the wintertime,” McDonald said.

McDonald says it’s crucial for gas companies to actively search for leaks in cast iron pipes anytime temperatures plummet. He demonstrated why so-called “winter patrols” are so important.

“We have an active gas leak, strong reading,” McDonald said.

He walked several blocks along Centre Street in Roslindale, which was lined with cast iron pipe.

McDonald found leaking gas almost everywhere. When asked if gas companies are doing enough about this, Mark replied, “No, absolutely not.”

Local gas companies told 7News they regularly conduct winter patrols checking the same sections of cast iron pipe every week or two. Experts say it shouldn’t be up to the companies to police themselves.

“I’ve heard from multiple workers that they’re not doing the winter patrols as they should be doing them,” said Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead).

Ehrlich is pushing a bill that would require gas companies to run winter patrols.

According to the state’s report, there was one patrol in Gloucester just 10 days before Sargent’s home exploded.

That patrol detected no gas leaks on his street. After the explosion, the gas company found 47 leaks in cast iron pipes across Gloucester.

“They should do it more often, and more thoroughly,” Sargent said.

Sargent rebuilt in the same spot. He hung a sign outside his new front door that pays tribute to his dog, Penny.

“I don’t want people to forget that it happened, because it does happen,” Sargent said. “And sad to say, it may happen again.”

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