Last Thursday, June 1, an excavator working on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs hit a natural gas line, prompting evacuations of two buildings. According to CBS Connecticut, the incident occurred on the east side of campus around 11 a.m., at which point people were promptly asked to vacate both the UConn Dairy Bar and the Jones academic building. Fortunately, no one was injured, repairs were made, and the Dairy Bar was able to reopen later that day.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time a natural gas leak prompted the evacuation of an academic facility, and it wouldn’t be the last … not even close.
Just four days later, another natural gas leak occurred at another New England school, this one inside the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, Mass. The leak was reported around 8 a.m., prompting officials to evacuate the school. “Due to the location of the gas leak students had to walk a half of a mile up the road to Northampton High School under a police and staff escort,” according to Western Mass News. “Once there, parents arrived for pick up and buses were called in to get kids back to where they lived as school officials made the decision to call off the rest of the day.”
Once again, the cause of the gas leak was construction, and though no one was hurt this time either, the short distance in time between the two leaks speaks to the instability of New England’s natural gas infrastructure. Natural gas utilities “have replaced less than 4 percent of their leak-prone pipes per year while billing Massachusetts ratepayers an estimated $640 million to $1.5 billion from 2000-2011 for unaccounted for gas,” according to a report by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA).
The fact that both leaks occurred at school buildings further illustrates the gravity of this situation, and more and more school children’s parents are beginning to take note. (See the April 27 e-Alert to read about a related story in Pennsylvania.)