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‘You have no idea what lies beneath:’ New data shows trend in Wisconsin gas leaks

MILWAUKEE -- Natural gas leaks are common, but are happening less frequently in Wisconsin. New numbers from We Energies show a downward trend in gas line and gas main punctures.

"They do tell a clear story," We Energies spokesperson Cathy Schulze said. "It's crucial that people get this right."

After the deadly natural gas explosion in Sun Prairie, FOX6 Investigators wanted to know how often gas leaks occur in We Energies' territory. The company has more than 20,000 miles of natural gas main in Wisconsin, with nearly one million service lines.

Big commercial projects, home renovations, and even DIY yardwork all have the potential to hit gas lines. Before digging, a call or online request needs to be placed with Diggers Hotline (811). We Energies then goes out to the site for free to locate and flag its natural gas utilities.

"You're looking at your lawn and you have no idea what lies beneath," Schulze said.

Data from We Energies shows 594 gas leaks in Wisconsin in 2017 - one for roughly every 700 gas line location requests. From 2015 to 2017, We Energies saw a 10 percent spike in requests for gas line location and an eight percent drop in gas leaks from excavation damage.

"So when you put those two things together, I think it shows that that message is being heard and that more people are following safe excavation procedures," Schulze said. "And hopefully that trend will continue."

The owners of Advantage Remodel say you can stay safe by using trusted organizations to find your contractor, like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

"And don't be afraid to ask those tough questions," Advantage Remodel co-owner Andy Schafer said. "I would say if you're interviewing and they aren't bringing up the safety and precautionary measures and calling Diggers Hotline, that should probably be a red flag."

There is still an active investigation into what led up to the Sun Prairie explosion, and who is responsible. But while explosions from natural gas leaks are not the norm, Sun Prairie is a somber reminder of what is at stake.