Natural gas fumes fuel fear on campus after Xcel pipe bursts

By Clark Jacobson

Disaster was narrowly avoided at 10:30 a.m. last Thursday when a 12 inch pipe cap belonging to Xcel Energy burst open and began leaking natural gas near the intersection of University and Fry. The stench of the fumes made its way to Macalester shortly afterwards.Terry Gorman, Macalester’s Director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Security, received a few calls reporting the distinctive smell a little after 11 a.m.

“That’s when I went into warp speed and sent out an email and text message to tell people that this thing was serious,” Gorman said. “At first, we thought the construction site [of the Fine Arts Center] had something to do with it.”

Gorman also called 911 upon suspecting the gas leak, and was told that people around Macalester should try to stay indoors and not have exposed flames outside.

However the emergency wasn’t as urgent as Gorman and others initially thought. The minimal amount of wind that day let the gas float up into the atmosphere, making the danger and magnitude of a potential explosion minimal.

“I suppose if something had ignited there could have been some sort of explosion,” Gorman said, “but I think [the Saint Paul Fire Department] was just being precautious.”

Even so, an email went out to the Macalester community at 11:37 a.m., with the subject line: “GAS SMELL AND LEAK,” and outlined the essential details of the near-disaster, but only two and a half hours later another email was sent stating “LOCAL EMERGENCY OVER-GAS LEAK STOPPED.”

“It was drifting pretty much straight down Snelling Avenue and I just wanted people to know,” Gorman said. “Some people have respiratory problems and the gas could have aggravated them.”

Despite the fact that no one was injured, Gorman warned that “it would have been a lot more serious if it was something on campus.