Pipe thieves spark gas leak in Kensington

PGW service men work at abandoned house in Kensington to shut down gas leak that caused evacuations.
PGW service men work at abandoned house in Kensington to shut down gas leak that caused evacuations.
Posted: February 03, 2011

Two weeks after a gas explosion killed a PGW worker investigating a leak, thieves yesterday morning stripped pipes off a Kensington home, springing a gas leak that prompted panicked authorities to evacuate 11 homes.

PGW received a report of a gas odor on G Street near Clearfield at 7:11 a.m., PGW spokeswoman Melanie McCottry said. Authorities evacuated 15 residents until they deduced that the gas was coming from a vacant house where vandals had ripped out black-iron and copper pipes.

"In [thieves'] attempt to make some cash, they're putting a lot of people at risk," McCottry said.

Residents returned to their homes by 10 a.m.

PGW fields 3,000 to 4,000 reports a month of gas odor, McCottry said. Leaks can be caused by such problems as vandalism, unauthorized digging or accidents, PGW spokesman Cameron Kline said.

PGW workers were investigating an odor report on Jan. 18 in Tacony, when a 12-inch gas main exploded on Torresdale Avenue near Disston Street. PGW worker Mark Keeley, 19, of Fox Chase, died in the blast. Several other PGW workers and firefighters were injured.

The cause of that blast remains unknown.

The pipes targeted by thieves connect homes and businesses to the utility lines. Their location means they're easier to access by thieves. It also means property owners, not PGW, are responsible for their replacement, McCottry said.

"This is a major problem for all the utilities, and it's very dangerous," Kline said, referring to a recent rash of thefts of even manhole covers and sewer grates, which thieves sell as scrap metal.

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