Report: Human error caused deadly gas pipeline explosion in Johnson County

Natural gas blast

Credit: WFAA

The natural gas line exploded in a fireball that could be seen for miles around.

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Dallas Morning News

Posted on September 1, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 1 at 4:05 PM

The state says human error was to blame for the June natural gas pipeline explosion that killed one man and injured eight others in Johnson County.

The Texas Railroad Commission released an 82-pages report Tuesday that says the Houston company Enterprise Products Operating LCC was in violation of several safety and damage prevention rules when its pipeline ruptured and exploded June 7.

A company named C&H Power Poles was digging 48-inch diameter holes near George’s Creek Ranch to install electrical poles for Brazos Electrical Cooperative. The hole was within the vicinity of a 36-inch buried natural gas pipeline owned by Enterprise.

According to the commission, which regulates Texas’ oil and natural gas industry, a veteran operations specialist for Enterprise failed to locate and properly mark the pipeline in the days before the drilling — despite two notifications that the excavation would take place. The state requires such markings.

“At the time of the incident there was only one permanent pipeline marker indicating there was an Enterprise Pipeline present,” the report says. “The sign was located approximately one-quarter mile from the incident on a barbed wire fence with high vegetation.”

The commission said that the operations specialist, Wayne Decker, went to the area described in one of the notifications, but he wasn’t trained to use GPS equipment to find the exact location of the pipe.

Decker, according to the report, cleared the two notifications as “no conflict,” stating that the “activities should not impact the Pipeline Systems operation … and [Enterprise] does not plan on marking the proximate location of the portion of the Pipeline Systems which may be in the vicinity of such activity.”

Around 2:50 p.m. on June 7, the C&H drill team struck Enterprise’s pipeline, causing a 100-foot rupture. C&H auger truck operator James Neese was killed at the scene and eight others on the team were injured.

The report said Enterprise was in violation of six pipeline safety rules and two damage prevention guidelines. The company was fined $120,000 and required to submit an action plan by Sept. 29 to correct the violations.

Two of the cited violations were because Decker was not required to submit to an alcohol and drug test after the incident.

Enterprise released a statement on Tuesday saying they would decide how to proceed after evaluating the report.

“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 release said.

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