How Common Are Gas Leaks And Explosions? Our Team Set Out to Find The Truth

June 27, 2024


Gas Leaks


On the morning of May 29th, parents of students at Shirley Chisholm Elementary School in Washington, D.C., were informed a so-called “natural” gas leak had been discovered and the school would be closed for repairs. The news shocked parents, as the school had already been evacuated three times in the past two weeks due to suspected gas leaks. 

Despite assurances from the administrators that the issue had been resolved, it turned out that the root problem—a broken gas boiler—had not been addressed. While it is difficult to gauge the level of exposure for the students and staff, it is known that long-term exposure to gas can increase the risk of respiratory problems, especially in children.

Often called “natural” gas, thanks to decades of misleading marketing from the oil and gas industry, methane gas is a climate super pollutant that contains harmful air toxins like benzene and nitrogen dioxide linked to cancer and respiratory issues. 

The Gas Leaks Project tracked all gas leaks and explosions reported in the United States in May, finding 140 incidents. Not only did gas-related incidents happen in schools, but also in neighborhoods, buildings, hospitals, small businesses, underwater, commercial districts, highways, local roads, and even entire towns reported having gas leaks everywhere. It affected children, adults, older people, and even animals. Whole families and neighborhoods were forced to evacuate immediately, and, worst of all, two people tragically lost their lives. Our research confirmed what we already know: gas is neither safe nor clean.



What’s more, these stats likely only represent a fraction of the total number of gas leaks in the country, as many others go unreported. The National Fire Protection Agency reported that, on average, methane gas ignites 4,200 home fires each year in the United States alone. After sifting through the details of 140 news stories about methane gas leaks and explosions, here’s what we learned: 

Gas is Dangerous, with Explosions Causing Hospitalizations and Death

Methane gas is dangerous, and explosions often kill or seriously injure victims. In May, two people died from gas-related incidents, and 39 victims were injured or had to seek medical attention.

  • In New Jersey, Kevin Gilbert, a retired Newark police officer, was killed after a gas explosion leveled his home. The explosion also critically injured a relative of the homeowner. 
  • Three people were evacuated after a gas explosion blew out the foundation of the house they were in. One of the victims was transported to Cape Cod Hospital for further evaluation. 
  • In Youngstown, Ohio, a gas explosion in a Chase bank killed 27-year-old employee Akil Drake and injured seven other people.
  • Employees of a Walmart in Joplin, Missouri, went to the hospital after they reported feeling lightheaded, nausea, and vomiting. 

Gas Incidents are Widespread and Disruptive

Gas events are widespread and disruptive. With about 3 million miles of aging pipelines in the United States, a gas event (either a leak or explosion) is increasingly common and impacts public safety and health, schools, economic corridors, major highways, small businesses, and more. 

Sometimes, Gas Leaks and Explosions Go Unsolved

Gas explosions often go unsolved, raising serious questions about whether oil and gas companies can be trusted to keep us safe.

  • An “unknown chemical leak” at Bobby Duke Middle School in Coachella prompted the isolation of 24 classrooms Wednesday morning. Of the 19 students evaluated at the scene, 18 were taken to three local hospitals after expressing “minor complaints” of experiencing lightheadedness. 
  • In Sacramento, Thirty-four residents of a residential complex were temporarily displaced after an explosion in the building left them unable to return home. Even though residents smelled gas before the blast, the cause is still being investigated.

How to Identify a Gas Leak

  • Smell: Sulfur-based odorants added to methane gas makes it smell like rotten eggs.
  • See: Underground methane leaks cause discoloration and vegetation death. Look for brown spots on your lawn or dead plants, as well as bubbling water or exposed pipes.
  • Hear: Escaped gas makes a hissing or whistling sound when it leaks. 

What You Can Do to Stay Safe 

If you smell, hear, or smell methane gas, here’s what you should do: 

  • Evacuate the area immediately. Quickly leave the affected area and make sure to be at least 300 feet from the leak. If it’s inside, evacuate the building and close the doors and windows behind you. If it’s in a basement or cellar— do not enter. As you leave, warn as many people as possible.
  • Call emergency responders. Once you’re in a safe location, call 911 to alert the police and fire department. You can also contact the local gas utility, which will help remedy the situation.
  • Avoid sparks and fires. Nobody wants to make a bad situation worse, so avoid causing sparks or fires. Electrical switches, thermostats, telephones, appliances, and cars can all cause sparks. Do not light candles, cigarettes, or matches, as they can cause the gas to ignite. 


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