CHANDLER, AZ — The ABC15 Investigators have learned the type of pipe that leaked and caused a natural gas explosion, seriously injuring four people in Chandler last month, had a prior history of premature degradation issues, leaks, and explosions.
Southwest Gas shared the results of its initial investigation with ABC15 Tuesday morning, 12 days after the explosion at Platinum Printing at Ray and Rural roads in Chandler.
The company found the pipe that leaked is a Driscopipe 8000, a type of pipe that is susceptible to degradation and leaks under certain conditions. The company said the ”stub" pipe that leaked in Chandler had been mislabeled in installation records, so it had not been included in previous remediation efforts for Driscopipe 8000.
The August 26 explosion injured four people, with burns on up to 30 percent of their bodies. Platinum Printing co-owners, Dillon Ryan, 29, and Andrew Ryan, 39, their employee, Parker Milldebrandt, 29, and Glenn Jordan, 58, who worked at the Eyeglass Repair business to the west of the print shop, were all hospitalized.
The explosion blew the roof off of Platinum Printing, shattered windows, and caused other damage to several nearby businesses in the strip mall.
Southwest Gas emailed the following statement:
First and foremost, we continue to keep in our thoughts those injured and affected by the incident in Chandler and are hopeful for their successful recoveries. We care deeply about those injured in this accident, as well as the people in the communities we serve, and recognize we are accountable for ensuring the delivery of safe and reliable service. Even one accident of this type is too many. We have a strong track record and focus on safety, and we are committed to taking any necessary steps to ensure something like this does not happen again.
Southwest Gas told ABC15 the company purchased Driscopipe 8000 between approximately 1980 and 1999.
Southwest Gas said the leaks are most likely to occur when certain sizes of the pipe are exposed to prolonged periods of no-flow conditions, such as pressurized inactive "stub” pipelines that are exposed to prolonged elevated temperatures like those encountered in Maricopa County.
In 2014, a Gilbert man was critically injured after a Driscopipe 8000, operated by Southwest Gas, leaked in his neighborhood. Jason Nelson, 39, lit a cigarette in his garage, which triggered a natural gas explosion.
After the Gilbert explosion, ABC15 uncovered there had been prior warnings about Driscopipe 8000, which didn't hold up well to the southwest desert heat.
In the years since then, the company worked with the Arizona Corporation Commission to step up inspections and replace at least some of that bad pipe. The multi-year remediation effort involved replacing or abandoning any pipe sections that were at risk. It is unclear how much pipe still needs to be replaced.
Since the implementation of this plan, Southwest Gas said, there have been no other instances of personal injury or property damage from gas leaks that were caused by the pipe degradation that the company identified.
The pipe at the location of the Chandler explosion was installed in 1999.
However, Southwest Gas said an error in the construction records misidentified the type of gas pipe used near the building where the August 26 incident occurred, which resulted in exempting the pipe from the prior remediation effort. Southwest Gas is in the process of investigating how that error occurred.
The gas company said they are taking prompt actions to implement a new remediation plan that includes extensive leak inspections, including mobile leak patrols and walking leak patrols of similarly sized pipe installations of all pipe types installed from 1999 to 2001.
The goal is to identify pipe leaks for repair before they become hazardous or even noticeable.
Southwest Gas said the plan will also prioritize the abandonment of inactive service pipes installed between 1999 and 2001, and will include a review of construction records for installations done in that period to ensure there are no other instances of misreported pipe type.
"We are confident that we are taking all appropriate measures to protect against any similar instances of human error in reporting,” Southwest Gas said in an email to ABC15.
Natural gas is odorless and colorless. Companies add mercaptan, which makes the gas small like rotten eggs. Southwest Gas said the gas in the Chandler line that leaked was odorized with mercaptan to the levels required by State and Federal regulations. No odor complaints were received from the print shop or the shopping complex which it was located in within the last 12 months, according to the company.
Southwest Gas encourages anyone who suspects a gas leak to leave the area immediately and call 911 and Southwest Gas at 1-877-860-6020 from a safe location.
Indicators of a gas leak can include rotten egg or sulfur-like smells, even if it’s slight or momentary; and/or a hissing coming from the ground or an above-ground pipeline.