According to the Daily Breeze, the owner-driver of a SuperShuttle van was killed while refueling at a CNG (compressed natural gas) station in Carson yesterday. Bob Mancuso, 61, was thrown 30 feet by the powerful explosion. There’s no photo to illustrate the story, but the writer describes the back of the van as “twisted out of shape” and the fueling station as littered with “shards of metal and plastic.” It sounds lucky that more people weren’t killed or hurt.
Why did this happen?
Sheriff’s investigators do not know the cause of the 10 a.m. incident, but Mancuso’s wife, Dianne, said her husband had been rear-ended by a drunken driver earlier in the month and had just gotten the vehicle back from the repair shop the night before.
“He got the van back last night and was told everything was OK,” she said.
“It’s not something anybody would ever expect,” she said a few hours after the blast.
Digging around the web for information on CNG, I was a little surprised at the circumstances of this accident. The potential for a deadly accident if a CNG tank is punctured is well-known. I’d be curious what procedures SuperShuttle follows after one of its franchisees is rear-ended to ensure that the fuel tank is not compromised. Does SuperShuttle have an authorized repair shop? Since the franchisee owns and operates his or her vehicle, there’s no revenue coming in if the van’s in the shop. Does that create a perverse incentive to turn around repairs too rapidly?
In the story, Mancuso does not come off as a careless man.
Although a smoker, Mancuso would never hold a lit cigarette while filling the tank, his wife said.
“He had the highest respect for that fuel,” she said. “My husband is stubborn, but he had a lot of respect. That is something you don’t play around with.”
CNG is one of the alternative fuels that began to gain acceptance in the late 1980s as a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel. I seem to recall SuperShuttle making a lot of noise about its switch to CNG here locally, but the company’s current website makes no environmental boasts.
The firm was purchased by Veolia Transportation in a deal announced last October. Veolia, which was previously known at Connex, also runs the Metrolink rail service in LA. It’s a subsidiary of the France-based Veolia Environment, which itself was a spin-off from Vivendi. Veolia Environment’s tagline is “The Industry of the Environment.” They’re involved in a number of environmental concerns around the world, but I couldn’t find any specific reference to CNG.
I did look up “CNG accidents” however, and found this horrific story from India, where many of the buses run on CNG:
Ahmedabad, May 15 (PTI): The number of dead in yesterday’s collision between a CNG-run state transport bus and a chemical tanker in Anand district rose to 29 today, police said here.
A total of 29 bodies have been recovered so far and police have been able to identify six of them. They include four women and drivers of the bus and the tanker.
Fourteen people were injured in the accident.
Most of the victims were charred beyond recognition, police said.
The mishap occurred when the bus which was headed towards Vadodara on national highway number eight in Anand district hit the chemical tanker while trying to overtake.
This might be a good time for whatever companies market CNG, CNG fuel tanks, and CNG-powered vehicles to take a look at whether they’re doing all they can to safeguard the public. Are the operators of CNG vehicles properly educated for safety? Are the repair requirements sufficiently stringent? Are the tanks as safe as they can be, given the catastrophic result if they are breached?
CNG is a cleaner-burning, domestically available fuel that will probably get renewed attention as all the presidential candidates campaign for U.S. energy independence and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. When the spotlight hits, the CNG business might want to be ready for questions.