Serious incidents involving fatalities or injuries accounted for just under 40% of the 1,570 accidents on the natural gas distribution system between 1990 and 2002, according to the preliminary findings of an American Gas Foundation-commissioned report.

Damage by outside force to distribution facilities was the leading cause of all serious incidents, accounting for nearly half of them, reported Chicago, IL-based URS Corp., which conducted the study. Most of the serious incidents were caused by excavation damage by third parties, it said.

Corrosion, construction and operator error were cited as causes of serious incidents as well, but by “significantly smaller percentages,” the report noted. Each accounted for 10% or less of all incidents.

The report had some good news for the industry. It said that there has been a “statistically determined downward trend” in serious incidents on gas distribution systems of approximately 40% in the years covering 1990 to 2002.

The final report, “Safety Performance and Integrity of the Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure,” will be available in January.

Gary Gardner, executive director of the American Gas Foundation (AGF), presented the preliminary findings Thursday at a Department of Transportation (DOT) public hearing exploring ways to improve the integrity management of gas distribution lines.

The report “will serve as a strong starting point on the dialogue to consider any improvements deemed necessary,” he said at the hearing. It also will provide a “foundation” for DOT’s Office of Pipeline Safety, state regulators, industry and the public to determine the “best approach” for a distribution integrity management program.

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