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Lawsuit accuses Enbridge of negligence in deadly Ky. gas pipeline blast

A complaint filed with the Kentucky Circuit Court alleges that negligence on the part of Texas Eastern Transmission LP, its parent company Enbridge Inc. and several other defendants was to blame for the deadly natural gas pipeline explosion and fire.

The August 2019 failure on a portion of the Texas Eastern gas transmission system in Lincoln County, Ky., was due to the defendants' "reckless, wanton, negligent, and/or grossly negligent" conduct and disregard for life, safety and property, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of dozens of plaintiffs on July 30. The claim further alleges the incident was foreseeable and could have been prevented.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the probable cause of the explosion on Line 15 of the Texas Eastern system, which runs nearly 9,000 miles from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. The rupture on the 30-inch diameter line outside of Danville, Ky., released 66 MMcf of gas that ignited, causing one death, six hospitalizations and the damage or destruction of 19 residences at a mobile home community.

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The defendants' breach of duty in caring for the pipeline caused physical, mental, emotional and financial injuries on the part of the plaintiffs, according to Danville attorney Ephraim Helton. In filing the complaint, Helton laid out two dozen examples of the companies' alleged breach of duty, including failure to ensure the proper design, construction and installation of the pipeline; perform necessary repairs; and properly inspect, monitor, assess, evaluate and maintain the line.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages beyond minimal jurisdictional limits to compensate for past and future medical expenses, physical pain, and mental or emotional suffering, as well as financial harm due to their loss of earnings or ability to work.

The lawsuit references seven "catastrophic failures" on the Texas Eastern Transmission system since 1985 that have resulted in nine deaths, six of which have occurred in Kentucky. The NTSB recently opened an investigation into a May 4 rupture on Texas Eastern's Line 10 in Kentucky.

The other defendants named in the suit include several subsidiaries of Spectra Energy Corp., which Enbridge acquired in February 2017; Houston-based pipeline and power line inspection firm NDT Global LLC; and an unknown operator at the Danville Compressor Station, where field workers closed a valve to isolate the affected area.

A spokesperson for Enbridge declined to comment, saying the company does not comment on active litigation as a matter of policy. NDT Global did not immediately return a request for comment. It was not immediately clear why NDT was named in the complaint. The NTSB did not mention NDT Global in its preliminary report on the incident, nor did the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reference the company in corrective action orders.

In April, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration amended its original corrective action order to note that a post-incident review of Line 15 diagnostic data uncovered the presence of 10 so-called hard spots not previously identified following the 2011 in-line inspection that produced the data. The location of two of the newly identified hard spots coincided with the location of the Line 15 failure, PHMSA said. Hard spots can result from non-uniform manufacturing procedures or changes in the steel's chemistry that can contribute to failures when subjected to stress, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust.