Westminster explosion linked to natural gas

Westminster explosion leveled one house and caused minor injuries in suburban Denver Thursday. Residents in the area said they smelled gas before the Westminster explosion. 

The Westminster explosion that rattled a suburban Denver neighborhood Thursday is being blamed on a natural gas leak.

The blast leveled one house, shattered nearby windows, and scattered shingles, insulation, and other debris across front lawns. Several nearby homes were damaged in the Westminster explosion, but no major injuries were reported.

In the wake of the late-morning blast, authorities were unable to locate three people living in the destroyed home, but by Thursday afternoon, the three residents were safe and accounted for. 

"I thought a plane had crashed, or it was a bomb, a terrorist," Monique Gallegos, a neighbor, told the Denver Post

The suspected cause of the explosion is a natural gas leak, a Westminster Fire Department said. Neighbors reported smelling the signature rotten-egg scent of natural gas in the moments leading up to the blast.

"While it has all the characteristics of natural gas, that has not yet been determined," said Gabriel Romero, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy, the area's supplier of natural gas and electricity.

The company shut off gas and electricity distribution in the area for most of the day Thursday, following standard procedure for residential blasts of this nature. It may take up to a week of investigation to confirm the exact cause of the blast, Mr. Romero said in a telephone interview. 

Pipelines are generally regarded as the safest and most cost-effective way to transport natural gas and other potentially hazardous materials. But many of the cast and wrought iron pipes used to distribute gas to homes and businesses are more than 60 years old and require maintenance or replacement. In March, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded energy infrastructure a grade of D-plus on its annual report card on US infrastructure.

There are over 2.1 million miles of natural gas distribution pipelines in the United States, supplying a quarter of American energy consumption. Roughly 27 serious incidents are reported each year on average, according to the Department of Transportation, resulting in an average of nine fatalities, 45 injuries, and reported property damages totaling over $5.6 million. Those numbers may be on the conservative side as counts can vary among states and municipalities. 

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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