Why Are Customers Waiting 12 Months For A Gas Leak Fix?

Why Are Customers Waiting 12 Months For A Gas Leak Fix? (Image 1)

Problems with natural gas pipelines are popping up in one in 100 homes in Central Ohio.

It's a problem so serious that it has caused explosions in some parts of the country, including one in Massachusetts that destroyed two buildings and injured police and firefighters last November.

So why are homeowners in Central Ohio waiting up to 12 months for a fix? Why are they being forced to play such a frightening waiting game?

When Kate Mazejka smelled gas outside her home last fall, she called Columbia Gas.
“They did all kinds of readings and they just reported that it was a grade two gas leak and they had 15 to 22 months to repair it,” she said.

While waiting for the repair, Mazejka said, at one point, the leak set off the gas detector in her home.

She said Columbia Gas employees visited her home and told her it was just the way the wind was blowing that day. But it left Mazejka a bit uneasy.

“I hear on the news things happening with gas leaks and I don't like that big long window of time that I have to be nervous,” she said.

So how can Columbia Gas take so long to repair the leak? That's what the state law allows.

And the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio conducts yearly audits to ensure that, among other things, gas leaks are being repaired within the time frame required by law.

There are three classifications of gas leaks. At one extreme are grade one leaks. They're emergencies and require immediate repair.

At the other extreme are grade three leaks. They're so minor that they don't require repair.

Grade two leaks are everything in between, and the wait time for repair can be up to 16 months.

“If we make it a grade leak, a grade two leak, we've determined that the readings are down and there is no immediate danger,” said Columbia Gas Field Supervisor Bill Wilson.

Wilson said the average repair time for grade two leaks is about six months. The company said that if the leak hasn't been repaired within six months, they re-inspect the leak to make sure it hasn't changed.

“So we're very confident when we tell someone that this is not a hazardous leak, it is not a hazardous leak, and it's not something they need to be concerned about,” said Dave Rau, of Columbia Gas.

Experts say grade two leaks are more common than you might think.

Columbia Gas reported more than 10,000 grade two gas leaks in Ohio in 2012. They also had more than 7,000 grade one leaks, and more than 1,000 grade three leaks.

Some of the leaks are discovered by Columbia Gas field crews that are constantly canvassing neighborhoods.

To put the leaks in context, the company points out that it maintains more than 20,000 miles of main and nearly 1.4 million service lines.

“So when you look at the totals, it comes to about one leak in a main every five miles and one service line leak for every 96 customers,” Rau said.

The majority of the leaks are the result of corrosion. The company said the total number of leaks is decreasing and will fall more as the company progresses through a 25-year, $2 billion infrastructure replacement plan.

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