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Kentucky Pipeline Operator Missed Serious Defects Before Fatal Lincoln County Explosion


The operator of a natural gas pipeline failed to detect nearly a dozen major defects years before a fatal explosion rocked Lincoln County, Kentucky last August.

Although the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) hasn’t concluded that those defects were to blame for the deadly blast, the regulator has ordered the pipeline’s operator to review decades of test data to determine if similar problems exist elsewhere along the 775-mile segment that runs through the Blue Grass State.

Kentucky Pipeline Explosion Killed Grandmother, Injured 6 Others

The 30-inch diameter pipeline is operated by Texas Eastern Transmission LP, a subsidiary of Canada-based Enbridge. The entire network spans a total of 9,100 miles, running all the way from the Gulf Coast to high-energy-demand areas in the northeastern United States. Construction began during World War II, and most of the Kentucky branch — Line 15 — was completed in the 1970s.

The explosion near Danville, Kentucky on August 1, 2019 left a 58-year-old grandmother dead and sent six other people to the hospital, including one man who suffered third-degree burns to 75% of his body. The force of the blast also threw a 30-foot section of heavy pipe more than 480 feet and sparked a fire that destroyed five homes, damaged more than a dozen others, and scorched a 30-acre section of ground.

Unfortunately, last year’s tragedy was just the latest in a string of deadly explosions and other serious incidents involving the Texas Eastern network since 1985, including several that occurred along Line 15 in Kentucky.

Texas Eastern Missed “Hard Spots” During 2011 Inspection

The PHMSA isn’t working to determine the cause of last year’s fatal explosion – that’s the job of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has yet to release a final report on the tragedy. However, the federal pipeline regulator is tasked with ensuring the network is safe.

According to a Corrective Action Order dated April 28th, Texas Eastern reported that it had detected no evidence of “hard spots” — changes in pipe hardness resulting from the manufacturing process – during an interior inspection of the pipeline conducted in 2011.  However, the PHSMA’s own review of the inspection data indicated there were actually 11 hard spots along Line 15.

The regulator subsequently concluded that allowing Line 15 to operate without corrective action would “result in the likelihood of serious harm to life, property, or the environment” and directed Texas Eastern to survey the entire segment for leaks. The operator must also review the last 20-years of in-line inspections to ensure there are no additional trouble spots along Line 15.

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