Natural gas is the leading suspicion for investigators who are looking into the fatal south side explosion, so Call 6 Investigators dug into citywide statistics showing gas leaks spiking for Citizens Energy crews within the past year.
Staff at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission pointed to an Oct. 24 filing by Citizens Energy showing the number of gas mains and lines with reported leaks had jumped in early 2012 to a level not seen since 2009.
Citizens Energy Group reported to regulators that the overall trend is actually positive, with a bar graph highlighting a general decline in the number of leaks since 2007.
That year, the utility reported more than 800 leaks throughout its system. The graph indicates numbers started going down in 2008 and 2009, but then rose again in the middle part of 2009.
During that period, the number of leaks jumped up again to 500 leaks. The numbers then started dropping again with leaks dropping to a five-year low of just over 200 leaks per mile in early 2011.
The number of leaks started sharply rising at that point, spiking to a high of 500 leaks per mile in the early part of this year.
"We're actually proud of that number," said Citizens Energy spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple. "Citizens has… 8,000 miles of service lines and gas lines in Marion County and so in 2012, when you look at even the spike in the leaks that we had, that indicates that we had .06 leaks per mile."
Holsapple blames the recent spike in gas leaks on a five-year testing process. She said it causes the numbers of gas leaks to spike every five years.
"It appears that there is a spike, but if we would spread that testing out equally over the course of five years, it would be a plateau," she said.
She said that the five-year testing process requires crews to inspect a large number of lines in a short period of time at the end of the process, which inflates the numbers at the end of each cycle.
"So I guess what I'm saying is that the same amount of leaks are happening," said Holsapple. "We're proud to say that we're in the top 25 percent of companies of similar size when it comes to leak detection. We feel that our system is certainly safe and I think these numbers indicate that."