Gas leaks caused by work crews up 40% from last year, officials say

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Channel 9 noticed a large number of gas leaks lately and after some digging confirmed a 40% increase in leaks caused by work crews.

“It was actually coming into the windows it was so bad.  It was a very strong smell,” said resident Ann Marvin Griffiths.

Griffiths said she was at home in Matthews last week when a work crew struck a natural gas line near her home.

She told Channel 9 all she could think about was an explosion that leveled a house in Ballantyne this summer.

This spring, a work crew in Durham hit a gas line and caused an explosion that destroyed several buildings.

“Whenever there is an accident that releases natural gas, anything that causes a spark could potentially ignite that natural gas,” said Jennifer Sharpe with Piedmont Natural Gas.

Numbers Channel 9 requested from PNG show work crews caused 553 gas leaks from January through August of last year.

This year, there have been 774 within that same time frame, which is a nearly 40% spike.

PNG said most of the line strikes happen when crews fail to call 811, which notifies crews to mark utility lines.

"People, excavators and contractors -- they need to understand that calling 811 is an absolute necessity before you dig,” Sharpe said.

[ALSO READ: Worker calmly reveals gas leak in 911 call before Durham blast]

The company said increased construction in Charlotte has also amplified the problem, so it has ramped up education efforts. This weekend, PNG helped host a class to train contractors.

In some cases, crews have called 811 and had lines marked, but the locator marked the lines incorrectly. Channel 9 learned that's what happened last week in Matthews

PNG said it has also worked to increase funding to train locators and it hopes the training will prevent mistakes on their end.