Fatal Natural Gas Explosion Rocks Durham, NC
One person was killed and 17 were injured after a natural gas explosion in Durham, North Carolina Wednesday morning.
The explosion occurred at 10:07 a.m., about 30 minutes after firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting the smell of gas in the 100 block of North Duke Street, Fire Chief Robert J. Zoldos II told The Durham Herald-Sun. The firefighters had begun evacuating nearby buildings when the blast destroyed one building and damaged four others, sending up a plume of dark smoke.
"It looks like the front of the Pentagon on 9/11 — but on a very, very small scale," Zoldos, who was a first responder during the attacks, told CBS.
I really hope everybody’s okay... happened right outside of the office #DurhamExplosion https://t.co/bQKkuVxLuz— David Reeves Jr (@David Reeves Jr)1554909116.0
Witness Jim Rogalski, who was working in a nearby office, described the scene to CNN in a text message.
"Half the block is destroyed," Rogalski wrote. "Lots of injuries. Our office across the street was blown out. It was terrifying. Glass and debris everywhere. No one killed in our office but several injuries — deep cuts, head lacerations."
Zoldos told the Durham Herald-Sun that he contacted Dominion Energy, the company that supplies gas to Durham, after receiving the 911 call. Dominion tweeted that its subsidiary PSNC Energy "responded to a call about third-party damage to a natural gas line and the explosion occurred shortly thereafter." Additional PSNC crews shut off gas to the area following the blast.
"Our thoughts & prayers are with those impacted by this tragic event as well as their families," Dominion said.
Add'l @psncenergy crews arrived around 10:26am & shut off the flow of gas to the area. We're working closely with l… https://t.co/sfKbeysH5Y— Dominion Energy (@Dominion Energy)1554915600.0
Dominion has been the driving force behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would bring fracked natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion has said it will appeal to the Supreme Court after an appeals court tossed key permits for the project over environmental concerns.
For anti-pipeline group No ACP!, the explosion underscored the dangers of using gas as an energy source.
"They tell us gas is safe but it's clearly not," the group tweeted.
Dominion fracked gas line explodes in Durham, NC killing one and injuring 17 so far. They tell us gas is safe but i… https://t.co/KQstB3dq8i— No ACP! (@No ACP!)1554929697.0
The cause of Wednesday's explosion is currently under investigation, the Durham Herald-Sun reported. Officials initially said it was caused when a contractor hit a two-inch pipe beneath the sidewalk, but later said they were still working to discover the cause.
"Until the investigation is complete, we don't know that's the source of the gas leak," Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson told the Durham Herald-Sun.
The building most damaged by the explosion was a former Studebaker dealership now home to several businesses including Kaffeinate coffee shop. It was the owner of that shop, 61-year-old Kong Lee, who perished in the blast, CNN reported.
Here’s the latest update from @DurhamPoliceNC on today’s #DurhamExplosion. Our thoughts are with the Lee Family dur… https://t.co/qZjRKzknr9— CityofDurhamNC (@CityofDurhamNC)1554947569.0
Of those injured, one was a firefighter, one was an employee of Dominion who had responded to the initial leak report and eight were employees of Duke University, CNN reported. The firefighter was seriously hurt, but their life was not in danger, Zoldos said. Six of those injured were critically wounded.
The blast came as the city of Durham celebrated its 150th birthday.
"It's an irony, I know," Mayor Steve Schewel said as he praised emergency crews for their response, as CBS reported. "But what I will say about that is that what we hoped would be a very happy day it's not a happy day, but, again, it's a day when I am so proud of how our local government functions."
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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