Eyewitness video of fire caused by a gas explosion in Lincoln County
The gas explosion that left one dead and several injured Thursday in Lincoln County was not the first explosion for the pipeline in Kentucky or in other states, according to documents and media reports.
On Jan. 21, Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission gas pipeline exploded in Noble County, Ohio, causing the destruction of two homes and injuries to two people, according to multiple media reports. That’s the same gas pipeline that runs through Lincoln County, according to a map of the Texas Eastern Transmission’s pipeline on Enbridge’s web site. That 8, 835-mile line stretches from Texas to New York state.
In 2016, an explosion at a Greensburg, Pa.,on the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline burned one person and prompted evacuation of the area about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, Penn., according to media reports.
Minnesota attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman represented the victim in the 2016 Pennsylvania case in a lawsuit against the pipeline, which they said was resolved confidentially. According to a 500-page report from federal regulators released in 2018, corrosion caused the Pennsylvania explosion that resulted in third-degree burns to 75 percent of the victim’s body.
At the time Enbridge was owned by Spectra Energy Partners. Spectra merged with Enbridge in 2017.
Pritzker said in that case and many other pipeline failure incidents, corrosion is the problem. On the Texas Eastern line, “its a major safety threat,” said Hageman. “With the rate of corrosion on this pipeline, there are many sections of the pipeline that are essentially a ticking time bomb.”
“These pipelines are not supposed to suddenly blow apart. When they do blow apart, it’s usually because of internal and external corrosion which eats away at the pipe wall to the point where the pipeline is no longer capable of withstanding...the pressure and it basically just blows it apart, the gas rushes out and it’s ignited by a spark...and you have this giant cataclysmic pilot light,” said Pritzker.
The natural gas line has had problems in Kentucky too.
In 1987, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the explosion of a Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. natural gas pipeline in Garrard County prompted revisions in federal operating regulations for all pipeline companies.
That explosion on Feb. 21 ,1987, produced flames that could be seen 30 miles away.
The probable cause of the explosion was corrosion.
A federal investigation later showed the company had known for about five months that the line was badly corroded but failed to repair it. At the time, the company paid a $100,000 fine for violations related to the explosion, its third in Kentucky in 10 months. A federal review of the accident was conducted.
Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, the parent company for Texas Eastern, said Thursday that Enbridge had only owned Texas Eastern since February 2017. He said he was unaware of the problems that occurred more than 30 years ago but would look into the history.
He said all pipelines are inspected on a regular basis and are on a maintenance schedule.
Barnes said a control room monitors all pipelines and the pressure of every pipeline is checked.
“When the pressure goes down, it shows that something is amiss,” he said.
“Our first concern is for those impacted by this incident and ensuring the safety of the community. Our teams are coordinating with first responders to secure the site. We have isolated the affected line... we’ve cut to the pressure to it, and are working closely with emergency responders to manage the situation.,” Barnes said.
Shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, Barnes said the National Transportation Safety Board had assumed control of the incident site and officials from that agency were investigating.
He said Enbridge had mobilized emergency response personnel and resources to the site, and were continuing to work alongside first responders. Barnes referred all questions about when the pipeline was last inspected and upgraded to the NTSB. NTSB officials did not immediately comment.
Barnes said a variety of things can cause a pipeline rupture, including land moving because of rain. He said the investigations could take months.
Federal pipeline safety officials are expected to be in Kentucky later Thursday said a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a federal agency that oversees interstate pipelines.
“PHMSA has deployed an investigator to the incident site and is communicating with state and NTSB officials,” said Darius Kirkwood, a spokesperson for PHMSA.
According to the PHMSA web site, the cause of the January Ohio explosion still appears to be under investigation. Kirkwood did not answer questions about the status of the Ohio investigation.
But the PHMSA web site shows PHMSA regulators issued a notice of proposed violation to Enbridge for failing to maintain required records in Ohio in relation to the Texas Eastern Transmission line. The lack of records were discovered during a July and August 2018 inspection. The March order proposed a $32,800 fine.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities in the state, has no jurisdiction over the pipeline because it travels through multiple states.
But the Texas Eastern Transmission line is not the only natural gas pipeline in Kentucky that has caused explosions. Kentucky has more than than 7,500 miles of pipeline under the state, most of it natural gas, according to state and federal numbers.
In 2014, two people were hospitalized and two homes were destroyed when an underground natural-gas pipeline in Adair County exploded. The Columbia Gas Transmission line also damaged a third home, several vehicles and spewed flames for miles.
In 2012, a Columbia Gas Transmission line exploded in Estill County. No one was injured but the explosion caused minor damage to some structures.
In March 2002, 30 families were evacuated when a pipeline blew up in Montgomery County.
One of the worst pipeline accidents in state history was in April 1985 when a large pipeline exploded in Metcalfe County. Five people were killed and four were injured in that blast.