KRGV.com in Texas, 11/26/08:
Dangers of Gas Pipelines Under Neighborhoods
Reported by: Will Ripley
MCALLEN – NEWSCHANNEL 5 uncovered the potential danger caused by natural gas pipelines under Valley neighborhoods.
Six weeks ago, a natural gas pipeline exploded in McCook. The ball of fire was 400 feet high and over 1,500 degrees. The flames melted everything around them, including the asphalt on the road.
NEWSCHANNEL 5 spent the past six weeks traveling across Texas, digging up documents, and tracing a trail of pipelines. We found the pipelines weaving under your neighborhoods, your homes, and your schools.
We also learned natural gas is being blamed for a series of house explosions in north Texas.
“We have a very volatile situation,” says Jay Marcom. The north Texas farmer was in Austin, testifying to the Railroad Commission about the danger of natural gas pipelines. He says worn-out pipelines are leaking natural gas, polluting his land, and putting lives at risk.
“They’re just sitting out there waiting and rusting, waiting to explode,” Marcom says.
He agreed to come to the Valley with special equipment used to detect natural gas leaks. It didn’t take long before we found one. It was less than three miles from the McCook explosion site.
“You can smell the natural gas in this area,” commented Marcom.
NEWSCHANNEL 5 learned there are literally hundreds of miles of natural gas pipelines, running under thousands of Hidalgo County homes. This includes houses in McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, and Pharr. In fact, Hidalgo County has more pipelines than all the other Valley counties put together.
Railroad Commission documents show some of these lines are over five decades old. Back then, the pipelines were surrounded by empty fields.
Now, new homes and businesses are going up in the area. We’re told the land is too valuable not to develop.
“You’re moving out into the oil field and you’re exposing yourself to danger when you do that,” says Marcom.
City and pipeline operators work together to keep you as safe as possible. Companies try to keep a 50-foot buffer zone around the lines. But NEWSCHANNEL 5 found out that doesn’t always happen.
We saw one pipeline running directly underneath homes. Another pipeline runs right under McAllen Memorial High School.
Gas companies insist it is safe to build over pipelines, as long as the public knows they’re there.
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NEWSCHANNEL 5 spent two days searching for pipelines. Most of the sites looked well maintained. All of them were fenced off, keeping us and our testing equipment out.
We tried talking to the HESCO Gathering Company, which owns the pipeline that blew up in McCook. They also own gas lines that run right under Valley neighborhoods. They turned us down for an on-camera interview.
But they did agree to answer some of our questions by phone and email.
HESCO says they’re still waiting on lab reports to confirm the official cause of the McCook explosion. But they tell NEWSCHANNEL 5 it was likely a “corrosion issue.”
We asked if HESCO’s other gas lines are corroding too. They responded, “We do significant testing on our pipelines.”
But they couldn’t give us an exact date. They did say, “We are constantly inspecting and treating our pipelines.”
More than a dozen companies operate natural gas lines in the Valley. Only one company, Shell, agreed to an interview. They have three full time inspectors in the Valley. They check 600 miles of pipelines, preventing problems before they happen.
Shell spokesperson James Blanton says, “The safety of the public and the environment is of the utmost importance to us.”
We asked him if the accident in McCook could happen in McAllen.
“Yes, hypothetically, yeah it could happen,” says Blanton, “But I’m very confident it will not be a Shell line.”
The Texas Railroad Commission also has four inspectors covering more than a thousand miles of pipelines in the Valley. Their job is to make sure those pipelines are well-maintained.
But even the state admits whenever you mix pipelines and people problems are bound to happen. According to the Railroad Commission, 200 such accidents happen a week in Texas. That’s more than 28 accidents a day.
Most accidents happen when construction workers dig and hit a gas line.
Ramona Nye of the Texas Railroad Commission explains, “This is the number one cause of accidents in the state. We are working hard to reduce those accidents.”
The Railroad Commission will soon begin fining people who dig into pipelines, without calling to find out where they are.
But Marcom says with so many gas lines in such a populated area, it’s only a matter of time before the next big accident.
“You’ve got the same ticking time bomb out in the country, in McAllen, in the Valley, with these unregulated gas gathering lines that are just waiting to explode,” he says.
We should point out the local government makes millions of dollars in tax revenue from these gas gathering lines.
The official report on the McCook explosion is due out in two weeks. As soon as we get that information from the company that owns the line, we’ll share it with you.
If you’re buying a home, it’s up to you to look around and see if there are any gas pipelines in the area. If you live near a natural gas line, the Texas Railroad Commission says you should always call before you dig. You can dial 811 or call 800-545-6005.
If you see or smell gas, get away from the area immediately and don’t use your cell phone because it could spark an explosion. Once you’re in a safe area, call police to report a possible gas leak.
Complete story at:
Tags: corrosion, explosion, leaks, pipelines