Explosions prompt push for stronger gas-utility regulation in Md.

Authorities guide a person after an explosion in Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A Maryland lawmaker said that Monday’s fatal gas explosion in Baltimore underscores the need for stronger gas-utility regulation.

In this year’s legislative session in Annapolis, state Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Montgomery County, promoted a bill that would require gas companies to place gas flow regulating devices outside of buildings.

She said she’ll be watching to see the results of the investigation into the Baltimore explosion while she works on legislation for the upcoming session.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s report on a fatal 2016 explosion in Silver Spring — which killed seven and flattened an apartment building — found that a failed mercury gas regulator and a disconnected vent line probably led to a buildup of gas at the Flower Branch apartments.

Charkoudian, who has kept in touch with survivors of that Silver Spring explosion, said many still feel the effects of that night, with some describing post-traumatic stress when they smell gas or hear a loud noise

“They still breakdown in tears when they talk about it,” she said.

Washington Gas, the utility that served the apartment complex where the 2016 blast occurred, has already settled with families affected by the explosion.

Later this month, it will face state regulators in Baltimore in an evidentiary hearing on what the state Public Service Commission has said is the utility’s failure to replace indoor mercury gas regulators. Washington Gas sought a rate increase in 2003 and, at the time, agreed to update all of the indoor gas regulators in its service area.

According to state regulators, there’s a lack of documentation that Washington Gas performed the replacements despite getting the rate increase.

Charkoudian said the legislation she’s proposing would be similar to what passed in the Maryland House of Delegates in the last session. It would require that all gas utility providers place the gas regulators outside of buildings any time a regulator or gas line is replaced, and that gas utility providers submit a timeline for moving all gas regulators outside of multifamily buildings.

Charkoudian would also like to see some kind of added technology to provide an early warning system, other than the odor of rotten eggs already added to gas to help detect leaks.

She has proposed “something related to alarm systems and notification, both for the residents and something that might notify 911.”

Monday’s explosion was in a neighborhood served by Baltimore Gas and Electric, or BGE. The same utility served the Lakeside Office Building that exploded in Columbia nearly a year ago.

On Monday, the Maryland State Public Service Commission released a report saying that equipment supplied by BGE at the Columbia office building did not meet state or federal safety standards. No one was hurt in that blast, which happened on a Sunday morning.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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