Pipeline Explosion Hits Co-op LinesBy Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 1st, 2013
A natural gas pipeline explosion ripped down power lines and sparked a fire that burned utility poles, knocking out power to nearly 18,000 in Louisiana. Crews from a local electric cooperative and a major regional investor-owned utility scrambled to make repairs to their systems and restore service.
When the 30-inch pipeline ruptured and exploded early June 18, the force of the blast obliterated an 80-foot section of the Florida Gas Transmission line, which moves natural gas from south Texas to markets in southern Florida.
Members of Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative living in nearby homes were shaken out of bed by the blast. Trees within 200 yards of the shattered pipeline were knocked down, and those up to 1,500 feet away were burned.
Although the resulting fire was hot enough to melt siding on nearby mobile homes, there were no reported deaths or injuries.
About 55 of the co-op’s members who live in the area were temporarily evacuated as flames shot to 100 feet in the air. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, and it is unclear when natural gas shipments through the 5,500-mile pipeline will resume.
“The explosion left quite a crater in the right of way and the fire was intense enough to completely burn away the vegetation, but damage to our system was relatively minor,” said Coylean Schloegel, manager of marketing and economic development for Washington-St. Tammany.
“Once we were able to get in to make repairs that afternoon, our crews completed the work quickly.” More than 17,600 co-op members were affected.
“We worked with the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry wildland firefighters who wanted to secure the scene before our crews were able to go in,” said Schloegel.
Crews from the Franklinton-based co-op stood by with firefighters equipped with bulldozers and a pumper truck while pipeline operators dispatched a field operations crew based about 320 miles away in Houston.
“Our firefighters were called to assist because the fire happened in a wooded area with acres of land at risk,” said LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain. The damage occurred in a utility right of way shared by the co-op, pipeline operators and Entergy, which has transmission assets in the area.
“Our crews worked along with Entergy to get service restored,” said Schloegel. “But major repairs were not made until after the damaged pipeline was vented and residual gas was allowed to dissipate.”