Close Call: LNG Tanks Saved during WV Blaze

Thursday, January 8, 2015 @ 06:01 PM gHale

A failed gasket or flange could be the culprit of a fire that broke out Monday among storage tanks containing 165,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) at a coal-fired power plant near Morgantown, WV.

The blaze at the Longview Power plant in Maidsville, WV, burned itself out without firefighters spraying their hoses. Authorities lifted an evacuation order two hours after the start of the fire, Granville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Butch Renner said.

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The blaze was the latest blow to the 3-year-old coal-fired plant about 10 miles north of Morgantown. The $2 billion facility was to be among the most efficient and least polluting facilities in the country. However, the facility suffered several outages since beginning operations in 2011 and Longview Power filed for bankruptcy in August 2013.

Company officials were not immediately available for comment. Its bankruptcy attorneys did not return calls for comment.

The fire started about 2 p.m. around a corral of about 16 storage tanks and tanker trucks. Either a gasket or flange on equipment transferring liquefied natural gas from tanker trucks to storage tanks failed, causing a leak and flames, Renner said. The blaze remained contained to the transferring equipment.

“We didn’t have any flames on the storage tanks,” Renner said. “If the fire had infringed on those (tanks) and caused them to explode, it would have been bad. There wouldn’t be a whole lot left of that power plant or that hill.”

The power plant, which sits in a valley, uses natural gas to refire itself if it shuts down during the winter, Renner said.

The liquefied natural gas was about 99.7 percent methane. Hazardous material crews responded, but the only gas leaking from the plant ended up burned by the flames, Renner said.

In December, firefighters and plant employees participated in an emergency training exercise organized by Thigpen Energy, the Texas-based company that was filling the natural gas storage tanks.

Firefighters spent about an hour assessing the situation before shutting off the valve between the tanker truck and storage tank. The blaze took about an hour to burn out.

Emergency officials told people living in a mile’s radius of the plant to leave their homes.

“We knew what we had, and we knew that it was more of a precaution thing,” Renner said.

About 10 homes were in the evacuation area, which included parts of Greene County, said Mike Wolfe, director of the Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency. Two people showed up at an emergency shelter at the Granville Social Hall. Both returned home in short time.

No one suffered an injury and the plant continued normal operation during the fire, Wolfe said.

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