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Natural gas pipeline explosion rocks Crossroads

By Kathryn Cargo
Feb. 15, 2017 at 11:48 p.m.
Updated Feb. 17, 2017 at midnight

An orange glow could be seen from U.S. 59 in Victoria after a Kinder Morgan pipeline exploded and caught fire a little after midnight Wednesday in Refugio County. The cause of the natural gas pipeline explosion is unknown.

An orange glow could be seen from U.S. 59 in Victoria after a Kinder Morgan pipeline exploded and caught fire a little after midnight Wednesday in Refugio County. The cause of the natural gas pipeline explosion is unknown.    Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Robert Montero was asleep in his bed when he woke up to his double-wide trailer shaking about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

After the shaking, Montero heard a loud blast that he thought was thunder. What he saw when he went outside told a different story.

More than 45 miles away, Montero saw a blazing fire that lit up the sky with an orange glow.

"The house started rumbling and then I heard the explosion," the Seadrift police officer said. "It was pretty significant when it shook. It woke my entire family up."

A natural gas Kinder-Morgan pipeline that is 36 inches in diameter exploded and caught fire for unknown reasons just after midnight Wednesday in Refugio County. No injuries were reported.

Refugio County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the fire at 12:15 a.m. about 18 miles north of Refugio and eight miles east of U.S. 77 in a rural area near Lake Pasture, according to a press release from the sheriff's office.

Chief Deputy Gary Wright responded to the scene and got as close as a quarter-mile to the fire, where he could feel the heat.

"It was shooting over 200 feet in the air," he said. "It was pretty intense, and lit up the sky for miles around."

At the time of the explosion, no Kinder-Morgan workers were at the scene, Wright said. Workers arrived about 1 a.m. and shut off the valves feeding natural gas to the pipeline, extinguishing the flames. Kinder-Morgan officials were notified of a leak in the pipeline by an electronic alarm on their gas control monitoring system, company spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, she said.

"We're working with the appropriate regulatory agencies on finishing the investigation so we can develop a restart plan to restart the line," she said.

Railroad Commission officials sent two pipeline safety inspectors to investigate the incident to determine compliance with federal and state pipeline safety regulations, agency spokeswoman Ramona Nye said.

"No cause of the incident has been determined at this time," she said.

Many pipeline explosions are caused by construction on adjacent pipelines in sparse residential areas, said Marshall Watson, Texas Tech University petroleum engineering department chairman. The fact the pipeline exploded when no workers were there is unusual, he said. For the pipeline to explode, there must have been a leak, and some sort of ignition source to ignite a flame, he said.

"The ignition could have happened several minutes after the leak happened or it could have been simultaneously," he said. "Maybe something could have given way and the rupture of the leak caused metal to move, creating a spark. It's kind of like striking a match."

The ratio of pipeline explosions to the number of pipelines in the U.S. is very small, Watson said.

"This explosion, to me, sounds unusual," he said. "It surprises me. That's why I'm anxious to know what happened. This is way out of the norm. Pipelines don't usually leak and explode by themselves."

Dina Paul, 46, of Houston, was passing through Victoria on her way to Corpus Christi to see her daughter when she saw the explosion 15 miles outside the city.

"I saw the sky light up orange in front of me," she said. "I turned around to look behind me, and I saw the fireball from the explosion."

When Paul arrived in Corpus Christi later that morning, she could still see the fire from the Harbor Bridge.

"Oh my God, I was so worried," she said. "I was so scared it was one of the plants. I know as big as that explosion was, if it was a pant, there would be a lot of casualties. To find out no one was hurt, that was one of the biggest reliefs this morning."


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