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Map shows clusters of past Driscopipe gas leaks in Arizona

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Posted at 5:00 AM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 21:11:47-04

Nine months after a natural gas leak led to an explosion at a Chandler shopping center, the ABC15 Investigators have found clusters of past leaks involving the same type of pipe, and residents had no idea about the hazards on their streets.

Driscopipe 8000 can prematurely blister, become brittle, crack, and leak under certain circumstances, according to Southwest Gas, the pipe’s manufacturer, and federal pipeline safety regulators. Southwest Gas said it documented that past pipe leaks have occurred in hot, desert environments where stagnant or low-flow gas is present in narrow diameter pipes. Inactive service lines and stub pipes are most susceptible, according to Southwest Gas. All of the leaks were repaired.

Southwest Gas installed Driscopipe 8000 in Arizona from 1980 to 2001. The company confirms 144 leaks since 1999 have been caused by premature degradation. This includes at least six premature degradation leaks since two major incidents last year. In August, this type of pipe fueled an explosion at a Chandler strip mall. That explosion, which is still under investigation, injured three print shop workers and another man from an eyeglass business. Another leak that lead to an evacuation in Scottsdale in September 2021 also remains under investigation.

The ABC15 Investigators mapped the locations of nearly all the prior Driscopipe 8000 degradation leaks, dating back 23 years, in addition to the locations of the last year's Chandler and Scottsdale incidents.

Locations in the map below are approximated from a geolocation service.

The map shows the most concentrated areas of past leaks are in the neighboring communities of Bullhead City, Fort Mohave, Topock, and Golden Shores, which are in northwestern Arizona along the Colorado River. The ABC15 Investigators mapped 35 leaks in that area, based on leak location data provided by Southwest Gas to the Arizona Corporation Commission. The maps also show 17 leaks in the Yuma area, and 72 in the Phoenix metro area.

The mapping exposes how some neighborhoods have experienced two, three, or four past leaks due to prematurely degrading Driscopipe 8000 lines.

ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius went to some of these leak cluster neighborhoods. Residents expressed their concerns about past leaks and the potential for future gas leaks in their area.

Carl Truly and Andrew Hoffman live on Wishing Well Place, a cul-de-sac with seven houses in Fort Mohave. They had two prior Driscopipe 8000 leaks in 2014. A third leak happened a block away.

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ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius informs Fort Mohave residents Carl Truly (left) Andrew Hoffman (center) about prior Driscopipe 8000 leaks on their cul-de-sac.

Truly remembers last year’s Chandler explosion, but he never knew it involved the same type of pipe that had leaked in front of his house. He said no one even told him there were ever any gas leaks on his street.   

"You're the first to bring it to my attention," Truly said. "Believe me, I'm really concerned about it now."

While the industry standard for plastic gas line longevity is 50 to 100 years, the pipe in front of their homes leaked in less than 25 years. 

"Our weather is really extreme," Truly said. "During the summertime, we can get in the 120s for weeks at a time."

Truly and Hoffman said they want to know how much Driscopipe is still installed in their neighborhood and what’s the potential for it to leak again.

"I’m running a smoker right here that's running for six, seven, eight hours - open flame," Hoffman said, worrying about possible scenarios. "Gas right there. Boom! It ignites. You got little kids across the street. I got little kids."

"Please get out here and check these pipes for us," Truly added.

Richard Arce lives in Glendale near 75th Avenue and Bethany Home Road. He was evacuated in 2008 after a gas leak in his front yard. It was one of three Driscopipe 8000 leaks Southwest Gas documented in his neighborhood that year.

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Richard Arce said he had to evacuate this Glendale neighborhood during a gas leak in 2008.

"They couldn't open my garage or anything because I was told that they were afraid that it could cause a spark," Arce said.

Luckily, there was no spark, no explosion that day. The only things harmed were a bush and a tree that died.

"I left it in the past and just kind of forgot about it," Arce said. 

After hearing the leaky pipe that caused his evacuation was the same type of problem pipe that caused the Chandler explosion, Arce said, "If you can get more information, I'd be interested in knowing."

The ABC15 Investigators have been asking for more information for months. This week, Southwest Gas officials agreed to meet in person to discuss what’s going on.

"One incident is too many, and I adamantly believe that," said Kevin Lang, Southwest Gas's director of engineering services. He explained all 144 Driscopipe 8000 deterioration leaks so far occurred in inactive services or stubs due to internal degradation. So, the pipes started deteriorating on the inside walls and eventually fractured all the way through.

"We drew a boundary around those inactive facilities and the stubs to say we are going to replace all of those," Lang said.

Southwest Gas started the replacement project in 2014 after a gas explosion critically injured a Gilbert man in his garage. So far, crews have replaced or abandoned more than 67,000 inactive services and stubs in Arizona. They have 22,000 more to do. They plan to finish by the end of 2023. That's almost a full decade since the work started.

"By eliminating those facilities [inactive services and stubs] in their entirety, we're eliminating that potential threat in our system," Lang said.

In the meantime, Southwest Gas confirmed more leaks are happening. They documented six Driscopipe degradation leaks since September. None have led to another explosion.

Lang said most of the leaks were found through accelerated leak patrols. Cars mounted with leak detection equipment search six times a year along all Driscopipe 8000 lines in the hottest parts of the state, which includes the Colorado River area and Phoenix metro area. Gas employees also conduct leak patrols on foot for inactive services and stubs six times a year.

When ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius pointed out that one leak over the course of one day could lead to a terrible incident, Lang said Southwest Gas has layers of pipeline safety processes as part of its Distribution Integrity Management Program.

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Kevin Lang, Southwest Gas's Director of Engineering Services, holds a segment of degraded Driscopipe 8000.

"We realized that we distribute a highly volatile product when it's not contained within its vessel or its pipeline," Lang added.

Southwest Gas operates 10,000 miles of Driscopipe 8000 in Arizona, and company officials point out that the inactive services and stubs most at risk of leaks are a very small subset.

But it’s a big deal for people, like Hoffman, who learn the pipes leaked in the past on their blocks and don’t know when or if they’ll leak again.

"You're not given nobody no heads up until what? The whole block blows up?" Hoffman said. "By then, it's too late."

Southwest Gas told ABC15 that not all Driscopipe 8000 lines in the area where Hoffman lives met the criteria for replacement or abandonment, and the company continues to perform leak surveys in this area every other month. However, the company said all of the inactive Driscopipe lines in Arce's Glendale neighborhood did meet the criteria and were abandoned.

Southwest Gas customers can call 1-877-860-6020 to ask what kind of gas line runs in front of their home. The company urges everyone to call 911 if they smell, hear, or see something they suspect could be a natural gas leak.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.