A federal safety watchdog is calling for expanding the distance from a methane gas pipeline that is considered “safe.” The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — which has authority over pipeline safety for methane gas and oil pipelines — told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) it would “strongly consider” expanding what it calls the “potential impact radius,” which others call the “blast zone,” “hazard area” and “incineration zone.”

A major leak from a gas pipeline is reported to federal regulators more than every other day. The formula used to calculate a 600-foot “safe distance” for a campsite 675 feet away from a pipeline buried 8 to 15 feet underground exploded, creating what E&E News described as “a blowtorch 2 ½ feet wide” that incinerated the families’ campsite, melting tents and sleeping bags, and killing all 12 people. “The only reason we could tell it was a tent was the geometric design of the poles,” police officer John Balderston told the LA Times at the time.

The formula for determining what area would be “severely impacted” by an explosion is based on numerous assumptions, including that any person within the area, even if they were asleep, could — within five seconds of a blast — comprehend what is going on, decide to flee, run at about 5 mph for 25 seconds, and then find shelter within 200 feet. Royce Deaver worked as a pipeline consultant for ExxonMobil for over three decades. “The whole thing was a fantasy story,” he told E&E News. “Like a fairy tale,” (E&E News)

This summary has been updated to more accurately reflect the scope of PHMSA’s jurisdiction.