Beneath nearly every American city, a crisis is unfolding. While talk of America's crumbling infrastructure focuses on bridges and roads, ports and airports, below ground the aging pipe networks that carry natural gas to homes and businesses grow more dangerous by the day.
For decades, labor unions, public safety advocates and environmentalists fought to increase funding to quickly replace the oldest, most vulnerable pipes with little success. The Department of Energy released calls to action. Public service and utility commissions would approve funding to repair damage and hook up new customers, but most of the U.S. iron and unprotected steel distribution mains - some a century old - were only slowly replaced.
Then, in late summer 2010, an explosion ripped apart a neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., just south of San Francisco. A weld on a 30-inch steel pipe ruptured and exploded, sending a thousand-foot fireball into the night sky. The pipe had been installed more than a half-century earlier.
Tragedy followed a year later in Allentown, Pa. - five dead, three injured. The cause: a 12-inch main installed in 1928. In 2014, a gas main break in East Harlem, N.Y., leveled half a city block, killed eight and injured 48. The gas main had been installed in 1887.
The tragedies focused attention on the potential catastrophe beneath many American cities and state after state, with the help of the Obama-era Department of Energy, began to fund multi-billion-dollar programs to accelerate replacement and increase hiring.
In many parts of the country where the IBEW represents gas workers, the result has been increased hiring and overtime for some of the best paid blue-collar jobs in the nation.