Answers still needed about gas explosion

Grand Junction city officials are understandably relieved that a just-released report has absolved the city of any blame in the March natural gas explosion that destroyed two houses and injured a number of people.

Even though the report was prepared by a private contractor working for the company that provides the city with insurance, there’s good reason to accept its conclusion.

After all, the city does not construct or maintain natural gas pipes within its boundaries, nor does it mark them for contractors doing underground work in the city. And it wasn’t city crews that were doing the work when an Xcel pipeline was apparently struck back in March and two homes on North Seventh Street burned to the ground as a result of the ensuing explosion.

But, even if the city bears no fault, there are serious questions remaining that city officials ought to be just as eager to have answered as anyone else, since city firefighters and other emergency workers must respond to disasters such as these.

Primary among those questions is this: Why did a utility siting report apparently produce inaccurate information about the exact locations of an existing gas line and an abandoned one that ran by the houses in the 1700 block of North Seventh Street?

Other questions include: Was the site report read and interpreted properly by the company boring a hole into the ground? Did Xcel’s information mesh with that provided by Safe Site Utilities? Perhaps most importantly: How accurate is the information throughout this community regarding buried natural gas pipes and other utilities?

We ask these questions not as an attempt to assess blame for the March 19 explosion. That will likely be done in judicial proceedings already anticipated in federal court.

Instead, our concern is how to ensure such tragedies do not occur in the future. We hope that is also the concern of city officials and representatives of the private companies involved.

Natural gas offers a vast improvement over most other energy sources for heating our homes and other structures. It is more efficient than heating with electricity. It is far cleaner than coal, which in past decades is reported to have cast a murky pall over the valley during much of the winter. It is also less likely to ignite a fire than, say, a wood stove or an old, coal-fired furnace.

Even so, we must never forget that we have constructed an underground grid of highly explosive material throughout our community. Most of us spend the bulk of our lives giving little thought to the gas pipelines as we water and mow our lawns, walk our sidewalks, drive our streets and sit, secure in our houses.

But that security is jeopardized when contractors don’t have accurate information about pipelines before they begin work. And that’s why it’s imperative to have these questions answered, not just to assess or absolve blame.


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