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Corrosion Cited in WV Pipeline Blast

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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External corrosion could be the cause of a pipeline explosion that ignited a massive fireball, destroyed four homes, and closed part of an interstate in West Virginia last week, the National Transportation Safety Board says.

The natural gas pipeline explosion, which shot flames 50 to 75 feet in the air, occurred in Sissonville, WV, just before 1 p.m. ET on Dec. 11.

Now, federal investigators are saying that the ruptured Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline has areas consistent with external corrosion. Investigators also said that alarms in the company's control room did not go off.


The blast destroyed four houses; luckily, no major injuries or fatalaties were reported.

Investigators Descend on Scene

NTSB investigators arrived in Sissonville the day of the explosion and blaze and spent several days collecting "perishable data," including thermal damage information and sections of the undamaged pipeline, said Robert Sumwalt of NTSB.

During a media briefing Friday (Dec. 14)—the fourth one held since the explosion—Sumwalt said the pipe would undergo analysis at an NTSB lab to determine the cause of corrosion.

"That's exactly what we want to find out—what caused that corrosion and what could have prevented the corrosion," Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said investigators had received Columbia Gas Transmission records about the pipe's age, when it was installed, and whether it had a corrosion prevention system.

"Now what we need to do is comb through those records, very carefully look at them, and then compare them to actually what the pipeline was," he added.

NTSB investigators are collecting "perishable data" and will verify the gas company's records upon returning to the lab.

Sumwalt stated the need to verify the records provided by the gas company, referencing the discrepancies in information provided after the deadly San Bruno, CA, pipeline explosion.

He also noted that before NTSB investigators arrived on the scene, they were incorrectly told by the gas company that the pipe was larger than it actually turned out to be.

Failed Alarms, Sprawled Thermal Damage

In addition to corrosion, investigators have learned that alarms didn't sound at Columbia Gas Transmission's Charleston, WV, control room during the explosion.

A control room worker first learned about the accident in a phone call from a Cabot Gas controller, who had been contacted from someone on the outside, NTSB said. The investigators plan to interview the worker from Cabot Gas, as well as try to contact the outside source who placed the call to Cabot.

The initial thermal damage survey indicated that the damage spread from the center of the ruptured pipe 490 feet north, 330 feet south, 470 feet east, and 610 feet west.


External corrosion was a likely contributor to the Dec. 11 pipeline explosion in West Virginia, which engulfed Interstate 77 in flames.

Sumwalt said that investigators would cut 10-foot sections of undamaged pipe from both the east and west sections to be shipped to the NTSB laboratory.

Officials are also investigating a 20-foot chunk of the pipe that was flung off in the blast.

Something 'Went Terribly Wrong'

On Friday (Dec. 14), Jimmy Stanton, chief executive of Columbia Gas Transmission, released an open letter to the community stating that something "went terribly wrong with our natural gas pipeline near Sissonville" and pledging the company's determination to find out what caused the explosion.

In 2002, a gas explosion occurred in the same region, but no link has been determined.

Columbia Gas Transmission is owned and operated by NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage (NGT&S). Headquartered in Houston, TX, NiSource owns and operates over 15,700 miles of natural gas pipelines, integrated with a large underground storage system.

NiSource serves customers in at least 16 states with approximately 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas flowing through its pipelines each year, according to the company.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Corrosion; Explosions; Fire; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Oil and Gas; Pipelines

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