On Jan. 26, a gas pipeline, 20-inches in diameter, exploded in Brooke County, West Virginia, an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Entering commercial service a year ago, this Appalachia to Texas (ATEX) pipeline was considered relatively young and running well until it erupted and caught fire.
The incident occurred at 10:40 am and was still being controlled later into that afternoon and evening. This rupture was discovered when a normal check of the pipes showed a strange pressure drop at a nearby pump station. Information regarding this pressure drop is still being recovered.
Nearby residents recall seeing a large fireball type explosion of flames close to one hundred feet in the air. While it is still unclear what caused the explosion, the effects are detrimental to Brooke County residents, who in some cases had to evacuate their homes. Chaos ensued after the explosion.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Sancha Adkins, a local, said, “I did a U-turn in the middle of the road and literally drove the wrong way on the interstate.”
No deaths or reports of injury caused by this explosion have been reported, but there have been reports of the heat from the gas leading to the melting of siding off a house and the damaging of a local power line.
Hundreds of 911 calls were made in response to the flames that erupted out of this section of ATEX pipeline. With the height and intensity of the explosion, the flames could be seen from many miles away.
Emergency response vehicles, on their way to the scene of the blast, got stuck in the snow-covered roads and remained there until other county vehicles arrived and blocked off the roads that lead to the scene.
The entirety of the ATEX has a length of 1,230 miles and can transport 125,000 barrels a day. The pipeline, carrying natural gas liquids, was, however, operating below capacity when the explosion occurred, at 80,000 barrels a day.
The pipeline burst impeded the delivery of important ethane deliveries to the nearby region. Actions to repair the pipeline must wait until the area is deemed safe for the crews to work on the pipe. It is currently unknown as to when the equipment will be back up and running again.
The company owning the pipeline, Enterprise Products, is said to be working with a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to identify the causes of this accident.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Rebecca Craven, program director at the Pipeline Safety Trust, said, “There are never enough inspectors at the state or federal level to adequately cover all the pipelines.”
This incident comes days after a pipeline pump station caught fire northwest of Texas City, Texas. There have already been four major U.S. pipeline accidents in January 2015 alone, including those in Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota. Accidents in these states caused the contamination of many water sources, hurting native species.
Politicians are taking these recent incidents into consideration when debating the creation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a 1,700-mile pipe that connects Canadian crude oil plants to Texas refineries. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that authorizes the construction of the Keystone, and the Senate is soon to vote on a similar bill, but President Obama vows to veto it.
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