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Pennsylvania gas pipeline explosion could have been caused by landslide

13 September 2018

Torrential rain and saturated ground likely caused an Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) pipeline in Western Pennsylvania to slip and explode on September 10, the company said, but the exact cause remained unclear pending an investigation. There were no injuries in the massive explosion, which took place in Center Township, 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Stock image
Stock image

ETP said a 24-inch diameter gathering segment of its Revolution system burst into flames at about 5 a.m. ET. The company’s monitoring system detected the blast and triggered valves that isolated the line. By 7 a.m., the fire had extinguished itself after the gas flow was cut off.

The explosion toppled six high-tension towers, felling power lines and prompting authorities to shut a local road and part of a major highway. The incident initially knocked out power to 1,500 people in the region and 30 homes were temporarily evacuated.

One home and a garage a few hundred feet away from the pipeline were destroyed by the explosion in addition to several vehicles, authorities said.

The pipeline came into service a few days earlier and is part of the broader 100-mile Revolution shale gas system, which has a capacity of more than 400 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) and supplies the ETP’s Revolution cryogenic plant in Washington County.

The region has been inundated by rain since late last week and the company said it was flying personnel in from Dallas to conduct a root-cause analysis. The company said initial site assessment reveals evidence of earth movement in the vicinity of the pipeline.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is overseeing the investigation, and a spokesman confirmed that engineers from the pipeline safety division were on the scene.

The explosion is the latest in the region after an unusually wet summer across Appalachia. Leach XPress in West Virginia caught fire and exploded in June, which was also attributed to a landslide.

Following the incident, a bipartisan group of eastern Pennsylvania state lawmakers called for construction on Energy Transfer Partners' Mariner East 2 NGL pipeline to be halted immediately until the company could guarantee the safety of the project.

Earlier in the year a judge suspended Mariner East 2 construction at 12 sites, saying ETP and Sunoco valued speed more than safety. That ban was lifted for eight sites in August.

ETP has also run foul of Pennsylvania's environmental regulators and was assessed for $12.6 million in fines after repeatedly spilling drilling fluids into wetlands and streams over two years.

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