A gas company must take every reasonable precaution suggested by experience and the known danger of the escape of gas. It is to be noted that negligence and unskillfulness in the management of inflammable gas, by reason of which escapes and causes injury, cannot be regarded as mere nonfeasance[i].
Natural gas is a dangerous commodity and a distributor of natural gas is required to exercise a high degree of care and diligence to prevent injury and damage to the public from the escape of gas from its lines[ii]. In other words, there is a strict duty on a gas company, which is engaged in the business of furnishing natural gas to consumers, to exercise great care that appliances used by its consumers are proper ones to handle this dangerous substance avoiding maximum danger to the consumer as possible[iii].
It is to be noted that a gas company is guilty of negligence if a leak in a customer’s pipes and appliances causes injury to persons or property provided the company has sufficient notice of such leak or leaks. And having such notice, if the company negligently inspects or negligently repairs; agrees and assumes to inspect and repair, and then fails to do so; or refuses to inspect and repair, knowing a dangerous condition exists, and fails to shut off its gas until the owner can have his/her pipes and appliances properly repaired, the company will be liable of negligence[iv].
Similarly, when a gas company has an exclusive use of a pipe line, the company assumes the duty of reasonable inspection and maintenance of the line while it is so used[v]. Further, when gas is first turned on by a gas company, it must exercise care as to the condition of the property owner’s own pipes and connections[vi].
It is to be noted that some state statutes require oil and gas produced from wells to be safely and securely confined in wells, pipes, or other safe and proper receptacles[vii]. A municipal corporation, owning gas works that supply private consumers on the payment of tolls is liable for the negligence of its agents and servants the same as private proprietors[viii].
It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation having possession or control of any natural gas or oil well to allow the flow of gas or oil from any such well to escape into the open air, without being confined within such well or proper pipes, or other safe receptacle for a longer period than two days after gas or oil struck in such well. Thereafter, all such gas or oil must be safely and securely confined in such well, pipes or other safe and proper receptacles[ix].
[i] Consolidated Gas Co. v. Connor, 114 Md. 140 (Md. 1910).
[ii] Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W. Va. 1 (W. Va. 1997).
[iii] Miller v. Wichita Gas Co., 139 Kan. 729 (Kan. 1934).
[iv] Bellefuil v. Willmar Gas Co., 243 Minn. 123 (Minn. 1954).
[v] Foster v. City of Keyser, 202 W. Va. 1 (W. Va. 1997).
[vi] Ambriz v. Petrolane, Ltd., 49 Cal. 2d 470 (Cal. 1957).
[vii] Rock Oil Co. v. Brumbaugh, 59 Ind. App. 640 (Ind. Ct. App. 1915).
[viii] Esberg-Gunst Cigar Co. v. Portland, 34 Ore. 282 (Or. 1899).
[ix] State v. Ohio Oil Co., 150 Ind. 21 (Ind. 1898).