What a pipeline breach looks like

Update August 22, 2016:

If you want to help stop these catastrophes, please comment on the PennEast DEIS and help us stop this project dead in its tracks.  Visit the site below to learn how:
Link – You can help us stop the PennEast Pipeline! It’s free and easy and you can make a difference.

Also, Joy Stocke has another excellent article out about PennEast and FERC.
The Truth about Pipeline Companies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Communities, Senators and Members of Congress Speak Out

Yesterday the Huffington Post featured a lengthy article on the PennEast pipeline by Joy E. Stock. The article is available here:


It’s an excellent read with a great deal of breadth, covering pipeline issues from justification for the pipeline, concerns of arsenic and drinking water quality, safety problems, and personal stories from people affected by the proposed route.

The photos accompanying the article were really exceptional as well. One picture in particular really caught my eye – it was this one:


This shows a “pipeline blowout” that occurred near Appomattox, Virginia in 2008. Here’s what happened:

  • At 7:44 am. EDT on September 14, 2008 the Williams Transco “B” line failed. Soil and debris rocketed out of the ground and natural gas started spewing out of the ground.
  • Two minutes later, the pressurized gas and/or debris felled a power line, which sparked and ignited the gas.
  • 15 minutes after the failure the nearest Compressor station was sent into emergency shutdown.
  • 26 minutes after the failure the upstream valve was closed
  • 36 minutes after the failure the downstream valve was closed
  • The fire jetted out of the pipeline for 34 minutes.  It did not cease until the compressor station and both up and downstream valves were closed.  Shutdown of a single valve or station was insufficient to stop it.
  • The fireball was reported to be 1/4 mile in height and breadth by an expert eyewitness.
  • Five residents were injured.  Three suffered second and third degree burns.  Two houses were destroyed.  95 houses were damaged.

The root cause of this accident was insufficient maintenance of cathodic protection.  Williams Transco was fined nearly a million dollars because they did not maintain the system properly, and the pipeline failed due to corrosion.

Firefighters on the scene followed prescribed protocols and this helped prevent any loss of life, but the protocols could not prevent the injuries or property damage.  Specifically, the protocols indicate that fire companies can do NOTHING while the pipeline has pressurized gas in it and the affected section must be isolated completely including up and downstream valves and compressor station(s) involved. In this instance it means first responders had to stand by and watch it burn for 34 minutes before the pipeline was shut down.

Only after that could they start fighting individual fires of houses and trees.

This was a 36″ pipeline….at 800 PSI.  The pipeline was operating just below its maximum allowable pressure.

The PennEast Pipeline will be operating at 1480PSI.

Published by

Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and three cats Ponce de Leon, Oliver, and Doolittle.

8 thoughts on “What a pipeline breach looks like

  1. Unfortunately, the situation for firefighters is the gas leak cannot be extinguished, because it will continue to leak, find another source of ignition, and then cause another explosion. Depending on the areas affected and the distance from a known leak, fire fighting operations can be initiated provided those fires are not being fed by a gas source that cannot be shut off. The key to it is cool the surrounding areas as best as possible without extinguishing the source fire, isolate exposures (areas where the fire is spreading) and protect life.


  2. It’s been 15 years since 12 people were killed by a gas transmission pipeline that failed, near Carlsbad NM, near where they were camping. That pipeline failed due to internal corrosion. Like at San Bruno, this failure very likely could have been prevented by rules for testing gas transmission pipelines. And, *if* such rules had been put in place after the Carlsbad disaster, the San Bruno disaster would likely had been averted.

    Yet, there’s still many miles of gas transmission pipeline that have not been tested since start up, if even then.



  3. In 2001, a 16″ natural gas line ruptured near Red House, West Virginia. Again, improper maintenance and corrosion were to blame. Fortunately, no people were harmed or houses were damaged, but the environmental damage was extensive. The fire that resulted was sparked by the friction on the gas escaping and was estimated to be shooting close 1/4 mile into the sky. People claimed to be able to see it as far away as Charleston (about 15-20 miles away). I saw the light from the fire in Nitro, which is about 7-10 miles away.


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