Fatal Explosions Renew Concerns About Pipeline Safety in Texas

Over the past decade, federal and state agencies have taken measures to improve gas pipeline safety. In remembrance of those impacted by gas pipeline explosions, National Pipeline Safety Day was established. The day was designed to increase awareness of pipeline safety. However, in the days prior to National Pipeline Safety Day 2010, Texans experienced two fatal gas pipeline explosions.

On June 7, 2010, on a farm near Cleburne, 50 miles southwest of Dallas, Texas, crews from the local power-line company were digging holes for utility poles. One of the workers nicked an unmarked gas pipeline which subsequently exploded. The pipeline involved was the North Texas Pipeline, co-owned by Enterprise Products Partners, LP. The explosion killed a drill operator and injured eight others. It also resulted in a massive fire that could be felt miles away and burned for hours.

On June 9, a second gas pipeline explosion occurred near Darrouzett in the Texas Panhandle. Workers for C&H Power Line Construction of Oklahoma, a dirt contracting company, were hauling rock from a pit. The crew's bulldozer struck a 14-inch isolated gas-gathering line. The pipeline, owned by Denver-based DCP Midstream Partners LP, was used to bring natural gas from wells together for transport. The resulting explosion killed two and injured three other people.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began investigating these tragedies, and preliminary findings indicate that the gas pipelines in each case were either unidentified or unmarked. The NTSB along with the Texas' Railroad Commission are continuing their investigations, and the safety features put in place to contain any damage to the environment or others were successful in both cases. As for gas pipeline safety, federal and state regulations require pipeline companies to locate and mark utility lines when excavation work occurs. In cases of pipeline maintenance and safety, those parties found to be responsible for accidents or incidents now face civil fines up to $100,000 per violation.

While Enterprise Products has expressed wishes to start several new pipeline infrastructure projects, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation continues to consider the issues that these deadly Texas explosions present. While pipelines have been deemed the safest way to transport energy products such as oil and gas, recent failures of pipeline infrastructures, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, have forced political leaders, businesses and citizens to consider the human cost and environmental impact of this form of resource transportation.