Gas fears persist as lawsuit hits Kansas Gas Service : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Gas fears persist as lawsuit hits Kansas Gas Service January 24, 2001 Web posted at: 2:07 PM EST (1907 GMT)

HUTCHINSON, Kansas (Reuters) -- As flames licked the rubble of a week-old downtown explosion Wednesday, residents and business owners prepared a class-action lawsuit against natural gas storage operator Kansas Gas Service.

Plaintiffs' attorney Stan Juhnke and the Kansas City firm of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy filed suit on Monday in Reno County District Court against the company, alleging negligence.

The suit lists 10 plaintiffs and seeks class-action status to allow an additional 50 plaintiffs to join the suit, Juhnke said. Damages sought will likely run in the millions of dollars.

Kansas Gas Service has acknowledged the existence of a leak at its natural gas storage facility about seven miles outside of town. But officials said it was unclear whether or not that leak was responsible for the series of events that have befallen the town of 40,000 over the last week.

The identified leak has been plugged, yet potential dangerous natural gas levels continue to be detected in various areas around town, keeping residents from returning to their homes in a mobile home park and keeping some businesses shuttered.

"We have acknowledged that we had a leak," said Weldon Watson, a spokesman for ONEOK Inc., which owns Kansas Gas Service. "Whether or not that is actually the cause of all this, who knows? There are no quick, fast answers."

The problems began January 17, when an explosion rocked two adjacent downtown shops, triggering a raging fire that consumed the businesses and damaged 26 other shops.

Several geysers of natural gas began shooting as high as 30 feet into the air at random locations around town, and one triggered a deadly trailer home explosion and fire on Thursday that killed a man and critically injured his wife.

Tuesday night an evacuated mobile home in the same area caught fire, sparking renewed fears. But city officials said Wednesday they did not think that fire was caused by the migrating underground gas. They were investigating other potential causes, including arson, said city spokeswoman Carol Mitchell.

Shortly after the first explosion a week ago, emergency workers and gas experts located a leak in a 60 million-cubic-foot storage cavern that is one of 70 caverns making up a 3.5 billion-cubic-foot underground storage facility operated by Kansas Gas Service.

Officials believe the break may have allowed the natural gas to seep unchecked through underground fault lines in the salt mines and deep wells that lie underneath the central Kansas town, officials said.

On Wednesday, experts continued drilling wells to try to vent the gas in a controlled manner, but as fire continued to burn at the site of the initial explosion downtown, officials said the situation was still potentially dangerous.

The city has been working with hundreds of private and public experts, including geologists, to try to track the migrating gas and identify sources of any additional leaks.

Kansas Gas Service serves more than 625,000 customers in Kansas with more than 12,000 miles of pipeline.

-- Martin Thompson (, January 26, 2001

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