Focus Turns to Coatings in PA Blast

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2016

Residents of the Westmoreland County, PA, town that suffered a natural gas pipeline explosion late last month attended a community meeting Wednesday night (May 11) hoping to find reassurance regarding their safety, as well as insight into why it happened.

Representatives from Spectra Energy Corp., the pipeline owner, were on hand to field questions from the more than 200 people who filled the basement of an area church, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Randy Putt, Spectra’s local area manager, told the crowd that, although the investigation into the incident is still in progress, early findings “point to problems with a tape sealant that failed around pipeline welds,” the paper noted.

He also apologized to those in attendance and called the blast “unacceptable.”

Eye on Tape Coatings

Tom Wooden, Spectra Energy vice president of operations, reminded the crowd that federal, corporate and independent investigators are still working to confirm exactly what caused the 35-year-old, 30-inch pipeline to explode.

A preliminary investigation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) suggested the tape coating around welds in the interstate pipeline was a factor in the event.

As a result, the company has been reviewing the coating on welds along the length of pipeline as mandated by PHMSA’s Corrective Action Order (CAO).

Wooden told area residents that, after examining “the entire length of this pipeline” where that type of coating was used, the company has shut down sections where the integrity of the coating is in question, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

“This coating type was used by us only for a very short period of time. It's called tape coat,” he said, explaining that coatings are applied to the welds where pipeline sections are joined together as construction proceeds in the field.

A spokesperson for Spectra Energy was not able to supply specific information on the brand of tape coating used prior to publication.

Wooden also assured them that this coating material was not used on the other three pipelines that share the right of way with the ruptured line, the paper noted.

“The investigation is still ongoing, but clearly we see this as one of the contributing causes. There may be other causes as well,” Wooden told the crowd.

Other Potential Causes

As reported earlier, shortly after the explosion investigators identified areas of corrosion along two circumferential welds—one at the point of failure and another excavated after the agency’s arrival at the failure site, PHMSA said.

According to the Post-Gazette, two environmental groups that monitor pipeline construction in the shale gas industry have pointed to a more powerful compressor station that began operating nearby in 2014. They suggest that this could have caused internal corrosion that weakened the pipeline.

Spectra representatives do not support this theory, the paper added.

While Wooden confirmed the company increased the volume of gas flowing through the four lines, the Tribune-Review said, he again noted that the investigation points to external problems with the weld coating and not internal erosion from pressure.

Additionally, PHMSA’s CAO indicated, “The pattern of corrosion indicates a possible flaw in the coating material applied to girth weld joints following construction welding procedures in the field at that time.”

Moreover, Ron Niziol, who inspects the welds on pipelines like this, told the Post-Gazette that weld coatings are not inspected after application.

“Nobody looks to see if the weld is adequately covered,” he said.

However, in response to a question about how often the pipeline was inspected, Andy Drake, Spectra’s vice president of environment, health and safety, indicated it had been inspected with an in-line “pig” four years earlier, Pittsburgh radio station WESA reported.

“What did the pig miss? We’re not sure that the pig missed this—or what the pig’s role in this was. We do know that the coating had something to do with it,” Drake said.

Commitment to Safety

The blast, which occurred April 29 in Salem Township, Westmoreland County, produced a 30-foot-wide, 50-feet-long, 12-foot-deep crater and a burn zone of a quarter-mile radius.

It also destroyed one home, damaged at least three others, singed acres of farmland and sent James Baker, 26, to a Pittsburgh hospital burn unit.

In a statement released immediately after the blast, Spectra Energy said: “Our first concern is for the safety of the community and our employees, and we are cooperating and coordinating with state and local authorities in our response.”

On Wednesday night, Spectra representatives affirmed that they remain committed to working with those who were affected by the blast.

“This incident and the impact it has had on this community is completely unacceptable to us,” Drake said. “We want to understand the cause so it never happens again.”

In a statement to PaintSquare News, Spectra Energy spokesperson Creighton Welch echoed these thoughts.

“We are working to take care of those affected by the incident and are responding to community concerns," he said, adding that the company is continuing to assist PHMSA in the ongoing investigation and to restore the incident site.

“After we confirmed the integrity of one of the lines in the area and determined through extensive testing that it was not affected by the incident, we returned that line to service yesterday [May 11]. The U.S. Department of Transportation authorized its restart,” he said.

“In coordination with PHMSA, we also are conducting assessments on two other lines in the vicinity to verify that no damage occurred due to the incident.”

According to its corporate website, safety is a primary goal of the company: “Above all else, we keep ourselves, our teams and our communities safe,” it reads.

“Our dedication to continuously improving our operational safety practices stems from our relentless focus on protecting the people within the communities we operate, our employees, and the environment.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Coating failure; Coating inspection; Coating Materials; Coatings; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Explosions; Inspection; North America; PHMSA; Pipeline; Safety; Welding

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.