Cause of massive gas leak in Gilboa still a mystery

Last Friday, a major leak in the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline -- a propane pipeline that's eight inches in diameter and part of a network spanning some 9,200 miles along the Eastern seaboard -- forced the evacuation of over 100 people in Schoharie County. Nearly a week later, a few Gilboa residents still haven't been able to return home, and the cause of the leak is still unknown -- or, if the gas company knows, they're not saying.

There's been plenty of media coverage of the leak, but today's Daily Mail has the most detailed story yet. The leak itself, which formed an opaque white fog, sounds terrifying:

All it needed was a source for ignition and many believe it’s a miracle it didn’t find that source.

Jim Young said he and his wife, Lisa, own two homes and had been working on their home in Broome Center and were heading back to their home in Middleburgh when they came across a “wall of fog”. “You couldn’t see through it,” he said. When they smelled gas they called the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Office to report it and to say they were evacuating people. Their son began alerting people in Broome Center immediately to get out right away.

Leonard Moxon Jr., who lives on Stonestore Road, said he spoke to a woman who said she stopped in a fog. She told him she had to turn her windshield wipers on because her car window was fogging over. She too wondered what the fog was and Moxon went to check it out. “There was a fog alright. We all know now what it was,” he said. “I was right there with no muffler. What would have happened there? I could have gotten blown out of my house.”

In 1990, another leak in the same line destroyed eight homes and killed two people in nearby Blenheim. (The New York Times has a harrowing postmortem.) Not surprisingly, locals are demanding answers from Enterprise TE Products, the company that owns the pipeline. From today's Daily Mail:

While there were no tragic results, residents who spoke at the two meetings [held over the weekend at the Middleburgh Fire Station] had a common theme. They don’t  believe enough being done by the company to safeguard its pipeline and the company needs to establish better communication with those living along the pipeline and local officials.

It's not the only complaint the company's gotten recently. In Pennsylvania, the pipeline's owners have come under fire for their hard-line negotiation tactics with landowners.

On the bright side -- if there is a bright side -- the leak hasn't made much of a contribution to global warming. Unlike natural gas, which is mostly made up of the potent heat-trapping gas methane, propane in its unburned form is not a greenhouse gas. The same characteristics that make propane leaks so dangerous -- it's heavier than air, and tends to sink and pool around the area of the leak -- mean that it doesn't perist long in the atmosphere.