Exploding Homes

I was back home in the Chicago area for the holidays last week. My┬áparents happened to mention that a house in their community had recently exploded. That’s right. Exploded.

They live in Homer Glen, a far southwest suburb of Chicago.

According to local news reports, in the afternoon of December 15 residents near 143rd and Parker began reporting the “rotten egg” smell associated with a natural gas leak. NICOR, the natural gas distribution company that services much of northern Illinois, began alerting residents, asking them to evacuate their homes. One home exploded around 4:30pm, injuring two residents, and destroying the house.

A photograph posted on the “Homer Glen Home Explosion Fund.” Source unknown.

Over a dozen homes in the area were evacuated in subsequent days as NICOR worked to identify and cap the natural gas leak, and restore distribution.

I have been unable to find information as to what exactly caused the leak and explosion.

When I was searching for information about the incident, I also found a news report from this past October describing a separate natural gas explosion at a home in Romeoville, another far southwestern suburb just west of Homer Glen. Two townhouses were destroyed, and two NICOR workers who were repairing the gas leak were injured. The report notes that the exact cause of the leak and explosion were under investigation.

Last month, a natural gas explosion killed a power company employee who was working to fix a ruptured gas line in Canton, IL.




Work under the fossil fuel regime

For communities in parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, coal mining has sustained local economies for multiple generations. Priorities within the current regime of fossil fuel production and consumption have shifted in recent years, however, with increasing emphasis on natural gas.

Many mines have decreased operations or even closed, leading to unemployment and economic uncertainty. Donald Trump tapped into this anxiety with promises of restoring jobs in coal and energy production, railing against “job-killing” regulations. But many wonder if putting coal miners back to work is possible.

As NPR notes, “The market of coal consumers is rapidly shrinking as utilities convert to natural gas. In 2008, coal-fired plants produced 48 percent of the country’s electricity. Last year, it was down to 33 percent.”

Part of this shift is due to air pollution regulations that have encouraged natural gas as an alternative to coal, but it’s also due to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing technologies and the increase in unconventional energy production.

Across the Ohio River from Powhatan Transportation Center – owned by Murray Energy – is a power plant that services mines in West Virginia. (NPR)