Insurance Blog
Monday, 24 September 2018 19:12

Gas Explosions - Can They Happen In Your Neighborhood And What To Do

There were 3 explosions, 60 to 80 structure fires, 25 injuries, and 1 death resulting from the natural gas pipeline explosion in Merrimack Valley earlier this month. More than 8,500 gas customers were affected, according to Columbia Gas. It will be months before residents and business owners and their employees recover. As we continue to hear their stories, many people who were not affected are wondering if a gas explosion can happen to them — and if it does what can be done about it. In this article we answer several questions about what to do after a gas explosion as well as what to do if you smell gas inside or outside of a structure. 

Who oversees and regulates gas pipelines in Massachusetts?

The Office of Pipeline Safety partners with Massachusetts Pipeline Safety Division to regulate and monitor pipeline safety regulatory responsibilities.

The Pipeline Safety Division acts as the enforcement arm of the Department of Public Utilities, ensuring that operators of natural gas distribution companies, municipal gas departments, steam distribution companies, and other intrastate operators are in compliance with state and federal regulations governing safety. The Division also oversees utility operators and excavators to preserve public utility service through enforcement of the Dig Safe Law.

Pursuant to Massachusetts state law, the Massachusetts Pipeline Safety Division tests each gas meter used in Massachusetts for accuracy. After a gas meter has passed the test, the Pipeline Safety Division seals it with a decal to show that the meter has been approved for use. New meters are tested on a sample basis. 

A meter may remain in use for up to seven years. After seven years' use, it must be replaced by a meter that has been newly tested and approved. A meter that has been removed must be tested and approved before it is put back into service.

Who monitors and investigates pipelines and incidents?

The DPU, through its Pipeline Safety Division, investigates all pipeline incidents that involve any of the following:

  • a release of gas that results in death or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization;
  • a release of gas that results in property damage of $50,000 or more;
  • a release of gas that results in an unintentional estimated gas loss of three million cubic feet or more;
  • an emergency shutdown of a liquefied natural gas facility or an underground natural gas storage facility; or
  • any other event that is significant in the judgment of the pipeline operator. 

How often do pipelines explode in Massachusetts?

According to Massachusetts pipeline incident reports, there have been 5 reported pipeline incidents between 2011-2015 that affected single dwellings, 12 reported between 2006-2010, and 8 between 2001-2005.

What are the signs of a gas leak?

The best way to recognize a pipeline leak is by using your eyes, ears and nose. Signs of a potential leak include:

  • Strong petroleum scent or other pungent odor such as sulfur (rotten eggs) if odorant is added
  • Dead vegetation, liquid or fire on the ground near the pipeline, dirt being blown into the air, fire or a dense white cloud or fog
  • Hissing, gurgling or roaring sound

Use your ears and eyes as well as your nose to recognize a potential problem.

What does gas smell like?

Natural gas is almost pure methane, which does not have any odor. For safety purposes, and by law, gas distribution companies must add a chemical odor agent to natural gas so that it can be detected by smell. An odorant called mercaptan is added to natural gas by the utility to help you detect its presence. The best sign of a natural gas leak is if you smell something similar to rotten eggs.

What should I do if I smell gas in a residence or business?

During an emergency gas leak, it's always safest to call 911 after you evacuate the premises and find a safe location.

If you smell gas:

  • Leave the windows and doors as they are.
  • Do NOT touch any electrical or light switches, doorbells, phones, remote controls, or anything that could cause a spark such as any appliance or thermostats.
  • DO NOT turn any electrical equipment on or off. Do NOT pull any plugs from the outlets. 
  • Extinguish any open flames such as lit candles. If you have a gas range or oven, make sure the controls are turned off. Do NOT smoke or light matches.
  • Every odor complaint is a potentially hazardous situation, If you feel safe to do so you may leave the premise and wait for a gas technician outside and away from the area.
  • IF outside, Do NOT start any motor vehicles, and do NOT use any outside devices such as lawnmowers, snow blowers, leaf blowers, trimmers.

If you suspect a leak inside your home or business:

  • Evacuate the premises and leave the door open when you exit.
  • Do not use electrical switches, telephones, appliances, garage door openers, etc.
  • Do not use lighters or matches and do not smoke.
  • When you arrive at a safe location, call Liberty Utilities immediately.

If you suspect a leak outside your home or business:

  • Leave your location immediately.
  • When you arrive at a safe location, call 911 and gas company immediately.
  • Keep clear of the area.
  • Do not start any motors or motor vehicles near the area of the gas odor.
  • Do not use lighters or matches and do not smoke.

Gas Company Emergency Contact Numbers:

The following list of natural gas companies is listed on the Mass.Gov website We have double checked and updated phone numbers for accuracy; the numbers may change after date of publication and are subject to change.

Berkshire Gas
(413) 499-1680 | (800) 292-5012

Blackstone Gas
(508) 883-9516 (No emergency number; answering service covers after hours and contacts on-call person.)

Columbia Gas of MA
(800) 525-8222
Number on Twitter profile is (800)-544-5606

Eversource Energy
(800) 592-2000

Holyoke Gas & Electric
(413) 536-9300

Liberty Utilities
(800) 544-4944 1-800-936-7000
Hearing & Speech Impaired: Dial 711

Middleborough Gas & Electric
Call 911 first, then  (508) 947-1535 (Option 1)

National Grid
(800) 233-5325

MA Gas – 1-866-542-3547
NH Gas – 1-866-900-4115
ME Gas – 1-866-900-4460

Wakefield Municipal
(781) 246-6363

Westfield Gas & Electric
(413) 572-0000 (Option 0)

Who covers property and personal losses resulting from a gas pipeline explosion?

In this case, Columbia Gas reportedly will pay for the cost of damages. Before filing a claim with the company, take an inventory of all lost property, including spoiled food. 

How does homeowners insurance work in the case of a gas pipeline explosion?

If the gas company does not reimburse losses to those affected by a pipeline explosion, homeowners insurance may provide benefits. To properly benefit from your coverage, you need to know what coverage you actually have.

Contact us for a review of your homeowners insurance policy benefits in the event of a gas explosion. We’ll do a thorough review to help you determine the best insurance option for you.


Read 788 times Last modified on Tuesday, 25 September 2018 17:55

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