Officials in the town of Sunray in the Texas Panhandle have reported that a gas line ruptured and caught fire Thursday afternoon. According to KFDA in Amarillo, three people were injured, with two airlifted to Lubbock and the third at a local hospital. A voluntary evacuation was issued for the area, and the city has shut off all gas in the city.
Investigations are ongoing, but Moore County Emergency Management has stated it believes the explosion occurred because of a ruptured gas line.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there have been an average of 28 “serious” gas pipeline incidents per year over the last 5 years, with 12 fatalities and 58 injuries per year. These reports exclude what DOT calls “Fire First Incidents,” which are explosions in homes or businesses where the cause of the incident was an outside fire. Also, “serious” incidents are those that include a fatality or in-patient hospitalization. There are many more incidents resulting in other injuries or property damage-by some counts, one every two minutes in the United States.
While gas explosions saw a general decline from past decades, they are more common in some parts of the country than others. One reason for this is the slow replacement of aging cast-iron and bare steel gas pipes-which are prone to cracks and leaks-with more durable materials like plastic. While the NTSB and other regulators have been warning of the dangers of cast iron gas pipes for more than two decades, replacement has been slow due to the expense and the sheer amount of cast-iron pipe. As of 2013, there was an estimated 30,000 miles of cast-iron pipe and 56,000 miles of bare-steel pipe still in operation.