Regulators cite pipeline company for fatal Johnson County blast

Print
Email
|

by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on August 31, 2010 at 11:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 1 at 4:19 PM

When a natural gas pipeline exploded in a wall of fire on June 7, nearby residents in Johnson County were terrified.

 It happened during a construction project. At the time, the owner of the pipeline said it looked like the company followed procedures, but that was apparently not the case.

The chaotic and fiery explosion may have been triggered by a mistake made by a worker who didn't know how to use a GPS system, according to a report issued this week by the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The report says Enterprise Products Operating specialist Wayne Decker was supposed to go mark one of the company's pipelines so a utility crew wouldn't hit it while installing electric lines.

The Railroad Commission said Enterprise should have made sure its employee knew how to use GPS equipment, but, according to the report, "...the Enterprise Operating specialist showed up at the wrong location twice ... he made no effort to contact the contractor..."

Instead, the worker whose job it was to mark the pipeline sent this message:

"Your activities should not impact the Pipeline Systems operated by [Enterprise Products Operating]," and so, the message said, Enterprise "does not plan on marking ... the Pipeline Systems."

With no visible permanent markers in place, workers for the utility company began to dig right on top of the pipeline. Auger operator James Robert Neese hit it.

Neese was killed; eight other people were injured that day.

After the accident, the state cited Enterprise for failing to conduct a "prescribed post-accident testing for the presence of a prescribed drug..." or a "post-accident alcohol test" in employee Wayne Decker.

"...the employee was (however) removed from the task of line locating."

Ted Lyon, an attorney for the Neese family, said Tuesday that Enterprise should be forced to pay "millions" in fines.

"That's the only way that these pipeline companies that make billions of dollars in Texas are going to be forced to mark these pipelines," Lyon said.

The Railroad Commission, however, has offered to settle the administrative fines in the case for $120,000.

In a statement today, Enterprise said "Enterprise is currently evaluating the findings of the newly released report, after which we will decide how to proceed. Enterprise has a comprehensive training program in place, but in keeping with our ongoing commitment to safety we will determine what, if any, enhancements should be made to our procedures."

The state has given the pipeline company until September 29 to tell investigators how they plan to fix the problems that led to the explosion.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

Print
Email
|