Representatives of the natural gas industry downplay issues of pipeline safety and tell stories about how much effort and expense goes into pipeline safety to protect the general public, as well as their own resources. The truth, however, paints an entirely different picture.
Natural gas transmission lines only, the big pipelines that ship huge quantities of gas from production areas to distribution hubs and population centers nationwide, accounted for more than 80 explosions and fires in 2012, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the US Department of Transportation that inspects and regulates the nation's pipelines. Of the 80 incidents, 38 were classified as significant, PHMSA data show. The 2012 accidents and fires reportedly caused seven injuries, no fatalities, and more than $44 million of damage. Natural gas distribution lines, the much smaller gas lines under lower pressure that bring gas directly to residential and commercial customers in and around major population centers, added another 71 incidents with nine fatalities and 21 injuries, the PHMSA data show.
Looking only at Texas data from 1986 through 2012, and only at "significant incidents," defined by PHMSA as those that caused either a death or serious injury, cost more than $50,000, released more than 50 barrels of liquid, or caused a fire or explosion, statistics prove that pipeline safety is a major issue that merits considerable attention by the general public and state regulators. It includes incidents through Sept. 28, 2012. Many incidents lack sufficient location data and do not appear on the map. Some incidents, including some of those that took place offshore, have not been assigned a state and are labeled "Not Specified."
Those "significant incidents" in Texas accounted for 1,669 incidents (21.5% of incidents nationwide), 78 fatalities (14.6% of all deaths nationwide), 371 injuries (15.7% of all injuries nationwide) and propety damage of about $668 Million (9.9% of all damages nationwide), numbers which are staggering considering that natural gas production takes place in at least 34 states and its use is found in all states. Improper monitoring and maintenance of pipelines is the primary cause of these incidents according to safety reports filed with PHMSA and various state agencies, the Railroad Commission of Texas in cases within the State of Texas.
The nation's energy transportation network includes more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline operated by about 3,000 companies of all sizes. That includes 321,000 miles of onshore and offshore gas transmission and gathering pipelines and another 2 million miles of gas distribution pipelines. Yet PHMSA has funding for only 137 inspectors, and often employs even less than that (in 2010, the agency had 110 inspectors on staff), ProPublica reported in November, 2012.
Sissonville, West Virginia Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Explosion, December 11, 2012
Since 2001, natural gas pipeline explosions and other accidents have resulted in the loss of at least 45 lives and many more serious injuries, usually from burns. The list below may not be comprehensive, and there may be additional accidents, deaths and injuries that are not known to us.
March 22, 2001 - A 12-inch natural gas pipeline exploded in Weatherford, Texas on . No one was injured, but the blast created a hole in the ground about 15 feet in diameter and the explosion was felt several miles away.
May 1, 2001-A 10 inch diameter propane pipeline exploded and burned in Platte County, Missouri.
June 13, 2001 - In Pensacola, Florida, at least ten persons were injured when two natural gas lines ruptured and exploded after a parking lot gave way beneath a cement truck at a car dealership. The blast sent chunks of concrete flying across a four-lane road, and several employees and customers at neighboring businesses were evacuated. About 25 cars at the dealership and 10 boats at a neighboring business were damaged or destroyed.
August 11, 2001 - At approximately 5:05 a.m. MST a 24 inch gas pipeline failed near Williams, Arizona, resulting in the release of natural gas. The natural gas continued to discharge for about an hour before igniting.
August 19, 2000 - A 30 inch diameter natural gas pipeline rupture and fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico killed 12 members of an extended Family camping over 600 feet from the rupture point. The force of the rupture and the violent ignition of the escaping gas created a 51-foot-wide crater about 113 feet along the pipe. A 49-foot section of the pipe was ejected from the crater in three pieces measuring approximately 3 feet, 20 feet, and 26 feet in length. The largest piece of pipe was found about 287 feet northwest of the crater. The cause of the failure was determined to be severe internal corrosion of that pipeline.
September 7, 2000 - A Bulldozer ruptured a 12 inch diameter NGL pipeline on Route 36, south of Abilene, Texas. A police detective, with 21 years of service, was killed. Nearby, a woman saved herself by going underwater in her swimming pool. Her house was destroyed by the explosion & fire.
September 8, 2000 - For the second time in 24 hours, a state contractor building a noise wall along IH 475 in Toledo, Ohio struck an underground pipeline, and for a second time the contractor blamed faulty pipeline mapping for the accident. In this incident, the pipe was a six-inch gas pipeline. The crew was digging a hole with an auger for a noise-wall support when it hit the underground pipe less than 500 meters from the previous day's incident.
August 5, 2002 - A natural gas pipeline exploded and caught fire west of Rt. 622, on Poca River Road near Lanham, West Virginia. Emergency workers evacuated three or four families. Kanawha and Putnam Counties in the area were requested Shelter-In-Place. Parts of the Pipeline were thrown hundreds of yards away, around, and across Poca River. The Fire was not contained for several hours because valves to shutdown the pipeline did not exist. The orange glow from the fire at 11 PM could be seen for several miles.
February 2, 2003 - A natural gas pipeline ruptured near Viola, Illinois resulting in the release of natural gas which ignited. A l6-foot long section of the pipe fractured into three sections, which were ejected to distances of about 300 yards from the failure site.
March 23, 2003 - A 24-inch diameter gas pipeline near Eaton, Colorado exploded. The explosion sent flames 160 meters in the air and sent thousands of Weld County residents into a panic, but no one was injured. The heat from the flames melted the siding of two nearby homes and started many smaller grass fires.
July 2, 2003 - Excavation damage to a natural gas distribution line resulted in an explosion and fire in Wilmington, Delaware. A contractor hired by the city of Wilmington to replace sidewalk and curbing, dug into an unmarked natural gas service line with a backhoe. Although the service line did not leak where it was struck, the contact resulted in a break in the line inside the basement of a nearby building, where gas began to accumulate. A manager for the contractor said that he did not smell gas and therefore did not believe there was imminent danger and that he called an employee of the gas company and left a voice mail message. At approximately 1:44 p.m., an explosion destroyed two residences and damaged two others to the extent that they had to be demolished. Other nearby residences sustained some damage, and the residents on the block were displaced from their homes for about a week. Three contractor employees sustained serious injuries. Eleven additional people sustained minor injuries.
November 2, 2003 - A Texas Eastern Transmission natural gas pipeline exploded in Bath County, Kentucky, about 1.5 km south of a Duke Energy pumping station. A fire burned for about an hour before firefighters extinguished it. No one was injured and no property damage was reported.
August 21, 2004 - A natural gas explosion destroyed a residence located at in DuBois, Pennsylvania. Two residents were killed in this accident. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the leak, explosion, and fire was the fracture of a defective butt-fusion joint.
November 8, 2004 - A NGL pipeline failed in a housing division in Ivel, Kentucky. The vapor cloud from the leak ignited, seriously burning a Kentucky State Trooper evacuating those living in the area. 8 others were injured and 5 homes were destroyed. The pipeline had 11 previous corrosion failures, and is only 65 miles long.
May 13, 2005 - An underground natural gas pipeline exploded near Marshall, Texas, sending a giant fireball into the sky and hurling a 160-foot section of pipe onto the grounds of a nearby electric power generating plant. 2 people were hurt. The OPS concluded that stress corrosion cracking was the culprit.
September 19, 2005 - A pipeline pumping station employee was killed in Monroe, Ohio, when leaking propane was ignited and exploded by an arcing pump. Flames reached 300 feet high in the following fire.
December 13, 2005 - Workers removing an underground oil tank in Bergenfield, New Jersey undermined a 1 1/4 inch steel gas pipeline. The gas line later failed, causing an explosion. Three residents of a nearby apartment building were killed. Four other residents and a tank removal worker were injured. Failure to evacuate the apartment building after the gas line ruptured was listed as a contributing factor.
July 22, 2006 - A gas pipeline ruptured, resulting in an estimated release of 42,946 MSCF of natural gas near Clay City in Clark County, Kentucky. The gas ignited, but there were no injuries, and just minor property damage. External corrosion was suspected.
October 12, 2006 - A pipeline explosion occurred when a tugboat pushing two barges hit the pipeline Thursday in West Cote Blanche Bay, about two miles from shore and 100 miles southwest of New Orleans, Louisiana. 4 crew members were killed, and 2 were missing and later presumed dead.
November 11, 2006 - A jet-black, 300-acre burn site surrounded the skeletal hulk of a bulldozer that struck a natural-gas pipeline and produced a powerful explosion 2 miles north of the Wyoming-Colorado line. The bulldozer operator was killed.
November 1, 2007 - A 12-inch propane pipeline exploded, killing two and injuring five others near Carmichael, Mississippi. The NTSB determined the probable cause was likely an ERW seam failure. Inadequate education of residents near the pipeline about the existence of a nearby pipeline and how to respond to a pipeline accident were also cited as a factors in the deaths.
February 5, 2008 - A natural gas pipeline explodes and catches fire near Hartsville, Tennessee, believed to have been caused by a tornado hitting the facility.
August 28, 2008 - A 36-inch gas pipeline fails near Stairtown, Texas causing a fire with flames 400 feet tall. The failure was caused by external corrosion.
August 29, 2008 - A 24-inch gas transmission pipeline ruptured in Cooper County, Missouri. Corrosion had caused the pipeline to lose 75% of its wall thickness in the failure area.
September 9, 2008 - Workers constructing a new pipeline hit an existing natural gas pipeline in Wheeler County, Texas.
September 14, 2008 - A 30-inch gas pipeline ruptured & gas ignited near Appomattox, Virginia. 2 homes were destroyed by the fire. External corrosion seems to be the cause of the failure.
February 1, 2009 - A gas pipeline explosion rocked the area 2 miles east of Carthage, Texas.
May 4, 2009 - A gas pipeline bursts near Hobe City, Florida on injuring 2 people on the Florida Turnpike from flying debris. The escaping gas did not ignite.
May 5, 2009 - Natural gas pipeline explodes and catches fire on near Rockville, IN in Parke County, about 24 miles north of Terre Haute, Indiana. PHMSA indicated the possibility of external corrosion in its Corrective Action Order (CAO) to the pipeline company. Pictures have been released around the area showing the damage caused. 49 homes were evacuated in a one-mile area of the explosion. No injuries reported.
November 5, 2009 - Two people were hurt when a natural gas pipeline exploded in Bushland in the Texas Panhandle. The explosion left a hole about 30 yards by 20 yards and close to 15 feet deep. The blast shook homes, melted window blinds and shot flames hundreds of feet into the air. The home nearest the blast - about 100 yards away - was destroyed. Bushland is about 15 miles west of Amarillo.
November 14, 2009 - A newly built 42-inch gas transmission pipeline near Philo, Ohio failed on the second day of operation. There was no fire, but evacuations resulted. Several indications of pipe deformation were found.
January, 2010 - A gas pipeline exploded near Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana killing a pipeline employee.
February 1, 2010 - A plumber trying to unclog a sewer line in St. Paul, Minnesota ruptured a gas service line that has been "cross bored" through the house's sewer line. The plumper & resident escaped the home moments before as an explosion and following fire destroyed the home. The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety ordered that gas utility, Xcel, to check for more cross bored gas lines. In the following year, 25,000 sewer lines inspected showed 57 other cross bored gas lines. In Louisville, Kentucky, 430 gas line cross bores were found in 200 miles of a sewer project, including some near schools and a hospital. The NTSB had cited such cross bore incidents as a known hazard since 1976.
March 15, 2010 - A 24-inch gas pipeline bursts, but did not ignite near Pampa, Texas.
June 7, 2010 - A 36-inch gas pipeline explosion and fire in Johnson County, Texas, was from workers installing poles for electrical lines. One worker was killed, and six were injured. Confusion over the location and status of the construction work lead to the pipeline not being marked beforehand.
June 8, 2010 - Construction workers hit an unmarked 14-inch gas gathering pipeline near Darrouzett, Texas. Two workers were killed.
August 25, 2010 - A construction crew installing a gas pipeline in Roberts County, Texas hits an unmarked pipeline on seriously burning one man.
August 27, 2010 - A LPG pipeline sprang a leak in Gilboa, New York, forcing the evacuation of 23 people.
September 9, 2010 - A high pressure gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, CA, a suburb of San Francisco. The blast destroyed 38 homes and damaged 120 homes. Eight people died and 58 were injured. Ten acres of brush also burned. Later, PG&E was unable to supply the California Public Utilities Commission with documents on how PG&E established pressure limits on some of its gas transmission pipelines.
September 28, 2010 - A repair crew was working on a corroded gas pipe in Cairo, Georgia when the line exploded. One crew member was killed, and 3 others burned.
October 15, 2010 - A gas pipeline under construction in Grand Prairie, Texas was running a cleaning pig without a pig "trap" at the end of the pipe. The 150 pound pig was expelled from the pipeline with enough force to fly 500 feet, and crash through the side of a house. No one was injured.
November 12, 2010 - Three men working on natural gas lines were injured when a pipeline ruptured in Monroe, Louisiana.
November 30, 2010 - A 30-inch diameter gas pipeline failed at Natchitoches, Louisiana. There was no fire, but the pipeline had a Magnetic Flux smart pig test earlier in the year that indicated no flaws in the pipeline. The deadly 1965 gas pipeline accident occurred on a different pipeline owned by the same company nearby.
December 17, 2010 - A gas line fire and explosion just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas city limits left one person critically injured. A man was working on removing an abandoned pipeline when it exploded, and the man's face was severely burned.
December 28, 2010 - A pipeline at an underground gas storage facility in Covington County, Mississippi exploded forcing the evacuation of about 2 dozen families for over a week.
January 18, 2011 - A gas main being repaired in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania explodes, killing a repair crew member and injuring 6 others.
January 24, 2011 - Gas pressure regulators failed and caused a gas pressure surge in Fairport Harbor, Ohio causing gas fires in numerous homes, and one apartment. 7 homes were destroyed, and damaged 45 furnaces, 10 boilers, 19 water heaters, and 10 other gas appliances. Gas company Dominion East Ohio says it found fluids and debris in a failed regulator and is investigating how that happened.
February 10, 2011 - 5 people are killed and 8 homes are destroyed in an apparent gas explosion and fire in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The NTSB had warned UGI about cast iron gas mains needing replacement after the 1990 gas explosion in that city. Between 1976 and the date of the letter, July 10, 1992, two more gas explosions occurred. Three people were killed, 23 injured and 11 homes were destroyed or damaged in those explosions.
February 10, 2011 - A 36-inch diameter gas transmission pipeline exploded near Lisbon, Ohio. No injuries resulted.
March 17, 2011 - A 20-inch steel natural gas line running through a Minneapolis, Minnesota neighborhood ruptured and gas from it ignitied, caused evacuations to buildings nearby, and Interstate 35W was closed from downtown Minneapolis to Highway 62. There were no injuries.