(KCPW News) More work is being done underneath Utah’s surface to protect the state in case of an earthquake. Questar has teamed up with engineers from the University of Utah to use “geofoam,” a plastic foam material to protect natural gas pipelines from rupturing in the event of an earthquake. Steven Bartlett, Associate Professor of Engineering at the U, says geofoam has been around for years, but it’s never been used in this fashion.
“When we replace the soil with such a lightweight material we accommodate that movement without putting large forces or stresses on the pipelinesm,” he explains. “So, the pipeline still moves but it doesn’t break or rupture. We’re reducing the forces on the pipe significantly during the seismic event.”
Bartlett says studies show a geofoam-protected pipeline near the Wasatch Fault can withstand up to four times more vertical force than a traditional soil cover, which is important, especially with researchers predicting the state is overdue for a major earthquake.
“For lack of better words it creates a huge blowtorch, you’ve got gas under pressure that’s not ignited. Sometimes it takes utilities several hours to shut those pipelines off,” says Bartlett. “So, literally whole neighborhoods can go up in flames when these pipelines rupture.”
The U. says geofoam has already been used for decades in North America, Europe and Asia for road projects.