This is what a fire from a two-inch gas distribution line can do.
In Kansas City yesterday evening, natural gas from a damaged pipe caught fire, producing an incredibly devastating explosion in the middle of a densely developed urban plaza.
The blast leveled a restaurant, producing a roaring jet of flame several stories high that took 100 firefighters about two hours to finally extinguish. The Kansas City Star's account gives some sense of the scale of the explosion:
"The force knocked out windows at least a half-block away and was felt nearly a mile away. Flames soared two-thirds higher than the building into the evening sky. Bricks and broken glass were strewn around, and nearby residents and office workers gathered outside and watched as the injured were carried away. The odor of gas remained in the air, causing apprehension about a possible additional explosion."
We've been paying attention to natural gas explosions ever since last month, when we wrote about the Spectra Pipeline being built now to carry natural gas into the West Village. Residents of the neighborhood are worried about what would happen if the pipeline were to explode, as gas pipelines frequently do. So when the Kansas City explosion happened last night, we were curious how that pipe compared to the one being built into Manhattan.
As a point of reference, the Spectra pipeline running through Staten Island and Jersey City, under the Hudson River and down Gansevoort Street, is a 30-inch-diameter transmission line that will operate at pressures of 350 pounds per square inch -- more than that of a fire hose.
So what kind of pipe produced the explosion in Kansas City last night?
"As far as we've been told at this point, it was a two-inch plastic distribution pipeline," Kevin Gunn, the chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission told the Voice today. "That means it was operating at about 20 to 50 pounds of pressure."
In other words, the spectacular conflagration that lit up Kansas City last night was caused by a gas pipe about as small as they come, a line 225 times smaller than the Spectra transmission line and running at a pressure seven to seventeen times lower. You could see why the New York pipeline's neighbors might be nervous.