Pipeline to be excavated after blast
By Jim Warren
Herald-Leader Staff Writer

08 March, 2002

Officials look for cause

(Kentucky) A segment of interstate gas pipeline that exploded in Montgomery County early Wednesday was last inspected in June 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Inspectors from the department's Office of Pipeline Safety were at the scene near Jeffersonville yesterday, but spokeswoman Patricia Klinger said it may be some time before the cause of the blast is determined.

A first step will be excavating the pipe, which must be buried at least 3 feet deep, but usually are much deeper. If necessary, the pipe will be removed and sent to a metallurgical lab for analysis, Klinger said.

The 30-inch diameter line, which carries natural gas from the Gulf of New Mexico to the Northeast, is owned by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Houston-based El Paso Corp. It exploded about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Flames shot high into the air -- they were detected by sensors on a government space satellite -- and about 30 families living nearby fled their homes.

Klinger said yesterday that inspectors from the Office of Pipleline Safety, which regulates interstate pipelines, last checked the line in June 2000 and apparently found no problems. Inspections usually involve checking company records, examining equipment and walking the pipeline right-of-way to look for signs, such as dying vegetation, that might indicate leaks.

According to Department of Transportation records, Tennessee Gas lines have been involved in leaks and other incidents in several states since the early 1990s, mostly without injuries. Three occurred in Kentucky, none involving injuries. One, in Danville in 1991, was blamed on construction equipment hitting a line. The other two, both at Clay City in the mid-1990s, were blamed on materials defects.

An El Paso Corp. pipeline exploded near Carlsbad, N.M., in August 2000, causing 12 deaths. The cause has not been pinpointed. But the Department of Transportation levied a $2.5 million fine against El Paso, the largest in the history of the federal pipeline safety program.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255, or jwarren@herald-leader.com

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