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Feds Order Pipeline Review After Blast

Friday, January 11, 2013

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The owner of a natural-gas pipeline that exploded last month in West Virginia must examine the line's coating integrity, verify cathodic protection equipment, and undertake other surveys and measures under a new order issued by federal investigators.

A section of Columbia Gas Transmission's SM-80 pipeline is "hazardous to life, property, and the environment,” investigators report in a Corrective Action Order issued in response to the explosion.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued the order in connection with the pipeline blast Dec. 11 near Sissonville, WV.

The explosion ignited a massive fireball and forced West Virginia State Police to close about a mile of Interstate 77 in both directions.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators arrived in Sissonville the day of the explosion and spent several days collecting data. They later tentatively determined corrosion to be a cause in the pipe's failure.

Jalopnik

A corrective order has been issued to Columbia Gas Transmission after a December pipeline blast that ignited a massive fire.

PHMSA's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) and the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSCWV) are also involved in the investigation, which is still underway.

Immediate Action Required

PHMSA's Corrective Action Order found that operation of the 20-inch diameter, 26.2-mile segment of natural gas transmission pipeline was "hazardous to life, property, and the environment without immediate corrective action."

According to the order, Columbia Gas operates the SM-80 pipeline that ruptured and caught fire Dec. 11, about 4.7 miles downstream of the Lanham Compressor Station near Sissonville, WV. The company also operates two pipelines that run parallel to the SM-80 pipeline.

"After considering the age of the pipe, circumstances surrounding this failure, the proximity of the pipeline to populated areas, and public roadways the hazardous nature of the product the pipeline transports, the uncertainties as to the cause of the failure, and the ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the failure, I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment," wrote Jeffrey D. Wiese, Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety.

NTSB

Corrosion and general wall thinning have been cited in the pipeline's failure.

Findings, Action Steps

The preliminary findings state the following.

  • At approximately 12:43 p.m. ET on Dec. 11, a 15-foot section of pipe separated entirely from the affected pipeline and was ejected from the ground.
  • NTSB noted at a press conference on Dec. 14 that evidence at the failure site was consistent with external corrosion.
  • The failure resulted in the release and ignition of an undetermined amount of gas and created two flame plumes. The explosion and fire resulted in the damage and closure of Interstate 77. Also, the fire destroyed three homes, severely damaged another, and inflicted some damage to other residences.
  • After the failure, Columbia isolated the failed pipe by closing two valves. Currently, the failed segment is blocked off and has not been repaired or returned to service.
  • Interstate 77 was closed by the West Viriginia Highway Department, and highway surfaces sustained thermal damage, causing the highway to be closed for approximately 18 hours while repairs were made.
  • Line SM-80 was originally installed in 1951 and was extended in 1955. Since then, various segments of the pipeline have been replaced, and the newest part of the pipe is from a 1992 project.
  • OPS observed general wall thinning on the underside of the affected pipeline at the failure location, and OPS has preliminarily concluded that general wall thinning is a major factor in the cause of the failure.
  • The affected pipeline at the failure location was constructed in 1967.

Immediate corrective actions in the order include verifying cathodic protection equipment and test stations on all three pipelines, three miles up and down stream of the incident location; inspecting all critical valves; conducting leak surveys; and assessing coating integrity.

Columbia has 365 days from the date the order was issued to perform a complete assessment and all necessary repairs.

Columbia had 10 days within receipt of the order, which was issued on Dec. 20, to request a hearing.

Failed Alarms

Investigators previously learned that alarms didn't sound at Columbia'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.

11K Miles of Pipeline

On 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.

Columbia Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., owns and operates approximately 11,453 miles of pipeline in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Headquartered in Houston, TX, 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; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Oil and Gas; Pipelines

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