Pipeline dangers abound in Texas

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 21 at 10:11 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

The gas pipeline explosion that leveled a San Francisco suburb last month did more than kill, injure and devastate a neighborhood.

It put many North Texans on edge, leaving them wondering what condition Texas pipelines are in... and could a similar tragedy happen here?

The answer is easy. It has already happened here, many times.

The better question is: Where and when will it happen again?

Since 2000, 16 people have died in pipeline incidents in Texas. More than 60 people have been injured.

Three of them were hurt last November near Amarillo when a gas transmission pipeline ruptured and exploded.

In February of last year, a gas pipeline ruptured and exploded in Carthage in East Texas.

In February, 2008, a 16-inch natural gas pipeline exploded near Corpus Christi.

Still, relatively minor events compared to the 30-inch natural gas pipeline that ruptured and exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight, injuring 50 and destroying 38 homes.

The images serve as a wake-up call for many Texans, given the 200,000 miles of high-pressure gas pipelines under the ground in the Barnett Shale and throughout the state.

"What happened in California makes you a little uneasy," said Ted Glowacki of Arlington, who has two high-pressure gas pipelines running under his home and the homes of hundreds of neighbors.

For years, despite resident complaints, the 20-inch pipeline has been exposed to massive amounts of debris washing down Rush Creek and across the exposed line.

"But you can see right here how rusty it is, and it looks like it's deteriorating and that's a concern," said Glowacki.

How much of a concern?

We asked pipeline safety engineer Don Deaver.

Deaver noticed not only an absence of coating material to protect the metal from corrosion, he said the line is dangerously exposed to debris washing down the creek.

He believes the lack of protection violates federal and state safety standards.

"This thing has a chance to create a rupture and burn anything within 500 feet, depending on the pressure of this pipeline."

One block away, we showed Deaver a pipeline metering station -- again, exposed to recent flood waters that blasted through its protective perimeter fence.

"Something large coming in here could have taken this out," Deaver said.  "A big branch or tree could have broken this off and we could have had gas all over the neighborhood here."

Ray Granado, a spokesperson for Atmos Energy, which operates both the station and the pipeline, told News 8 "The pipe is patrolled and is safe," adding:  "We will address the coating on the pipe and make necessary repairs."

The old chain link fence that was ravaged by rushing creek waters last month has been replaced with a new chain link fence.

Ten miles north, in east Fort Worth, Don Deaver is concerned about a new 30-inch high-pressure pipeline being buried in an old landfill.

While much of the landfill material has been removed, photographs obtained by News 8 show debris still buried in and around the pipe.

"That's going to create all types of corrosion problems, because the debris can contact and insulate the pipeline from cathodic protection, which protects it from external corrosion," Deaver explained.

What's more, the pipeline company -- Enterprise Products Partners -- neglected to first obtain a permit to bury its lines in a landfill 65 feet from Mary Kelleher's bedroom window.

"Just common sense -- you don't put a gas pipeline in amongst material that can shift and possibly puncture who-knows-what over time," Kelleher said.

The shifting has already taken place, as is seen by the settling soil on the back of her property line.

Kelleher also says a new pipeline metering station, also built without a permit, has caused unprecedented flooding on her property.

The 30-inch high-pressure line has for several weeks been somewhere under the floodwaters.

Bubbles coming up out of the water in dozens of places tell Kelleher the pipeline is still settling.

The impact on her nerves and her life, she says, is un-settling; the images of San Bruno keep replaying in her mind.

"And I have to wonder -- when is it going to end, when I blow up?" Kelleher asked. "I mean, does anyone care if I blow up?"

Enterprise Partners says its pipeline is safe and is not responsible for her flooding.

Kelleher has filed complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission.

Both state agencies have cleared Enterprise of any wrongdoing.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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