All it takes is a gigantic explosion at a strip club, and suddenly the underappreciated world of gas infrastructure is getting the attention it deserves. Miraculously, the Nov. 23 blast at Scores Gentleman’s Club in Springfield didn’t kill anyone. But the explosion, which is still being investigated, injured at least 19 people, damaged many buildings, and was a reminder of a danger that is usually hidden from sight.
Massachusetts has 21,000 miles of gas distribution pipes, a network that includes some of the oldest and leakiest mains in the nation. About a third are made of antiquated cast iron or unprotected steel. Those pipes are leaking gas at an alarming rate: A recent study found 3,300 gas leaks just in Boston. Utilities quickly fix leaks they know about, but many go unnoticed. In the Commonwealth as a whole, the rate of “losses and unaccounted for” gas was more than twice the national average in 2010.