Pipeline Firm Faces Fine from Blast

Thursday, September 2, 2010 @ 12:09 PM gHale


Pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners LP violated Texas state safety rules that contributed to a massive natural gas explosion that killed one worker and injured eight others in June, regulators said.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates natural-gas production, determined the Houston-based company did not properly mark one of its pipelines in Johnson County, Texas, 50 miles southwest of Dallas. Unaware of the pipeline’s location, a crew of electrical workers pierced it June 7 as they were excavating to install power poles, triggering the blast.
The commission said the company that employed the drilling crew, C&H Power Line Construction Co., of Dewey, Okla., was in violation of state rules. The company made inquiries about the location of potential pipelines under the excavation site, as required by law, but did not follow-up to ensure the area was clear, according to documents.
Enterprise, one of the nation’s largest gas and oil pipeline companies, faces penalties of more than $200,000, while C&H could be liable for up $26,000. Both companies have the option to settle the case for less. The National Transportation Safety Board and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting their own probes. The details of their investigations will not be available for several months.
Enterprise said in a statement it is evaluating the findings of the state investigation. Fred Haag, chief operations officer for C&H, said his company’s failure to call was a minor administrative mistake in a months-long process that had no bearing on the accident. C&H plans to contest the fees, he said.
North Texas sits atop a busy network of transmission lines that move increasing amounts of natural gas extracted from the area’s rich shale reservoirs. To avoid accidents, the Railroad Commission has set up a clearinghouse that connects parties interested in drilling with pipeline operators that might have lines in the area.
The agency’s investigation records show the first request for information about pipelines at the site of the explosion was filed in November of 2009 by a company charged with planning the installation of the electrical poles. That company didn’t receive any notices from Enterprise.
Enterprise received a second request at the beginning of June, and dispatched a worker to the site, but not knowing how to operate global-positioning system tools, the worker showed up at the wrong location. After an Enterprise worker talked to a C&H employee on June 7, the day of the explosion, the Enterprise worker wrongly assumed the excavation project was complete and dismissed yet another request from C&H on a possible pipe in the drilling site.
Enterprise did not install any temporary markers to indicate where its pipeline ran. The nearest permanent marker, a sign attached to a barbed wire fence, was a quarter-mile away.



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