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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Posts
    49

    Lightning hit my underground gasline!!!

    Here's a new one, at least for me:

    I was awakened around 1 a.m. by a sudden, torrential downpour that wasn't even forecast the day before. After just a minute or so -- BANG! -- with no interval between the clap of thunder and the flash of light.

    I was going to roll over and go back to sleep but I decided to get up and see if the power had been knocked out. I discovered 5 of the 10 fuses in my ancient service panel had been blown out, blackened actually, and that the phone was out.

    As I came back up the basement stairs I could smell gas from somewhere -- but not from the furnace or water heater. When I stuck my head out the front door, the rain had stopped but there was a loud gushing, bubbling sound coming from near the gas meter, along with a REAL strong odor of gas. Needless to say, I grabbed cell phone and called the gas company from the other side of the house (upwind). They arrived in 15 minutes, and looking quite alarmed, shut the gas off at the street.

    Later, when they returned to repair the line, they found a charred fitting where the metal pipe from the meter joins the plastic line that comes up from the street. And this line is almost 3 ft. deep!!!

    Question for anyone here: Aren't gas lines supposed to be grounded in order to prevent this kind of thing? What else can one do to protect gas lines and meters from lightning strikes? I always have worried about the phone & electric during storms, unplugging everything I could if a t-storm is forecast. Should I take this up with my gas company or report it to the public service commission?

    Something I never thought would happen. I shudder when I think that the whole house could have blown up.

    AB

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Location
    New Hampshire
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    1,285

    They do bond them with wire

    The meter bar is supposed to be bonded with a wire that runs with the plastic service to the main. It's also what they locate with a metal detector on plastic mains.

    My guess is that it went into the dirt FROM the meter.

    It can also hit curb boxes above curb cocks and travel up the main from there.

    Noel

  3. #3
    I worked as an area engineer with a major gas company for several years, and we've never bonded the meter bar, or anything else for that matter. The tracer wire which is run with plastic service distribution piping normally is just wrapped around the meter riser for storage, but never attached to anything. The light guage wire is designed as a tracer, not as a bonding or ground wire. Lightening strikes to gas meters are normally never a concern, as they typically are located so low to the ground that the lightening is most likely to hit higher protrusions. My former company is gradually relocating all gas meters to be adjacent to the house or building, rather than in the alley or yard. But lighting strikes to gas meters are extremely rare circumstances.

  4. #4
    John Culpepper's Avatar
    John Culpepper is offline CHANGE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS Professional Member*
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    Oct 2007
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    Austin Texas
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    I've had lightning take out buried water lines as well. The problem is that sometimes the ground for the building is bonded to the water line coming up from the slab.
    Nemo me impune lacessit.

    How much blood do I have to bathe in to get clean?

    Don't look down on anyone unless you're helping them up.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2000
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    Colorado flatland native
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    15,067
    Quote Originally Posted by AlexGB View Post
    . I shudder when I think that the whole house could have blown up.

    AB

    I think you were close. That is why, you'll notice, gas lines break ground before they enter your home, so leaking gas will to. But an open window and correct breeze could blown you to smithereens!
    My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn't pay the bill he gave me six months more.
    Walter Matthau

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Location
    Rapid City, SD
    Posts
    7,415
    Lightning is just weird as is all of electricity.

    When I was much younger helpin Dad work on appliances we went into a house that was struck by lightning. There were a couple traces along the wall where the plaster was blown out right where the romex was run. The entertainment center that was plugged into it never had a problem.

    The microwave (why we were there) was toast, but no signs of any major damage inside, no huge burn marks or melted goods. Just didn't work (bad magnetron I believe was the issue).
    "If you call that hard work, a koala’s life would look heroic."

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Muskegon, Mi.
    Posts
    425
    Around here you have to ground any stainless steel flexible gas lines to a grounding rod with a 6 gauge ground wire.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Winnipeg MB Canada
    Posts
    352
    It sounds like you had a curb stop at the street side. Here in my city I can think of only a few streets that have that and they were put in back in the 1960's. And with lack of use they probaby don't work anyway in an emergency!

    Usually the Centra Gas crews try to pinch the exposed line off while waiting for the u/g utility clearences to dig the street up and cap it off at the main.

    I see you said you phone is dead how did the rest of the electronics and appliances make out?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
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    49
    Quote Originally Posted by mbhydro View Post
    It sounds like you had a curb stop at the street side. Here in my city I can think of only a few streets that have that and they were put in back in the 1960's. And with lack of use they probaby don't work anyway in an emergency!

    Usually the Centra Gas crews try to pinch the exposed line off while waiting for the u/g utility clearences to dig the street up and cap it off at the main.

    I see you said you phone is dead how did the rest of the electronics and appliances make out?
    Yeah, this street goes back to the early 50s.

    Since you asked about electronics:

    1) Garage door opener: Circuit board fried. (Probably a good thing, because the garage is adjacent to where most of the escaping gas was drifting -- the spark from the opener might have been a source of ignition) eek 2

    2) Two 48" fluorescent worklights in the basement: Bulbs burnt/blackened and ballasts apparently shot

    3) TV dead. Not a huge loss...a 6-year old tube-type set, and I've been itching for a digital LCD model anyway. :-)

    4) Computer OK but DSL modem and network adapter cooked.

    5) GFIs in kitchen are inop. I tried replacing one myself and circuit was still dead, so time for the electrician.

    6) Last but not least -- my wonderful Rheem RGFD furnace is inop, which is OK this time of year (I don't have a/c). The gas company technician who repaired the line outside identified a small automotive-type fuse that had blown, located on the circuit board inside the blower compartment but when I replaced it the new one promptly blew. Gulp. Any idea of what a new main circuit board for one of these beauties costs?

    I contacted the contractor who installed the furnace and he suggested that I wait until the electrician has checked everything out before he comes out to troubleshoot & repair the furnace. I'm having a modern panel with circuit breakers, better grounding AND a whole-house surge supressor installed. yes1

    Thanks for the replies.

    Alex

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
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    1,673
    Some flexible gas lines (yellow colored?) are very thin-walled and there is a class action lawsuit over this. There are also restrictions on how close to other conductors these lines can be placed.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    31
    Quote Originally Posted by AlexGB View Post
    Yeah, this street goes back to the early 50s.
    Since you asked about electronics:
    1) Garage door opener: ...
    2) Two 48" fluorescent worklights in the basement: ...
    3) TV dead. ....
    4) Computer OK but DSL modem and network adapter cooked. ...
    Lightning seeks earth ground. Typically, you had damage because a lightning strike even to wires down the street found earth ground via your house. Your damage implies a massive earth ground failure.

    The surge entering your house, apparently, found a path to earth via the gas line. Why did so much energy dissipate on that path? Well, how many feet from the breaker box to an earthing electrode that both meets and exceeds post 1990 National Electrical Code? That is where lightning should have found earth. Apparently you earth ground is that defective - or just as bad, a connection across the basement to a cold water pipe.

    In another situation, the neutral wire in the transformer failed. They also did not have proper earthing. So the electric service had to find earth via the gas line. Eventually that gasket broke down as the meter exploded in the garage. The electric company investigator said that the owners were not home. And that their transformer failure caused the to be at least partly responsible. However, the neutral wire failure would not have caused an explosion if their earth ground existed.

    That would explain your gas line failure. Meanwhile, the surge found earth through many other appliances because you do not have effective protection. Every wire in every cable must connect to earth before entering the building. The neutral wire connects direct. Other two 'hot' AC wires must make that 'less than 10 foot' connection to single point earth ground via a 'whole house' protector. Sounds like you had no 'whole house' protector and woefully insufficient earthing which explains all that damage.

    For example, the DSL modem. Incoming on AC mains and seeking earth ground. All phone lines already have a 'whole house' protector. Therein is another destructive path to earth. Outgoing via the phone line. Since the modem had both an incoming and outgoing path to earth, then the modem was also damaged.

    This is probably the first you have heard of this. And yet what is posted here was long understood before even transistors existed. What was done in high reliability facilities 100 years ago is now required in every home. That means earthing that meets and exceeds post 1990 code. Apparently your home does not even meet 1990 code which explains so much damage.

    A direct lightning strike means nobody even knows the surge existed - if well proven technology is installed. For example, a 'whole house' protector costs about $1 per protected appliance. Only more responsible companies sell these such as General Electric, Square D, Intermatic, Keison, Polyphaser, Leviton, or Siemens. The Cutler-Hammer protector sells in Lowes for less than $50. Only the rare surge causes damage. How often do such surges exist? A question you should never have to answer. Effective protection means you never knew a surge existed. Effective protection (earthing) means even the protector remains functional. A protector is only as effective as its earth ground. Proper earthing means the surge need not find earthing destructively via the furnace and gas line.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
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    1,673
    Quote Originally Posted by westom View Post
    How often do such surges exist?
    See Fig. 8.1 in the link below
    http://books.google.com/books?id=SYh...age&q=&f=false

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Southern Calif.
    Posts
    110
    We used to have the gas lines bonded and grounded, but found that we had to remove the connections because the small static current was causing electrolysis in the pipe fittings and causing leaks. I’m not an engineer and don’t know the specifics as to how this works. I just know that I was tasked with the job of removing the ground connectors at 15 sites with propane tanks.

    I also know that lighting will always find a weak spot.

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