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Enbridge could face lengthy probe of deadly blast on Texas Eastern pipeline

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Images posted to Twitter by Kentucky State Police show swaths of blackened earth and burnt-out vehicles after a pipeline explosion Aug. 1 in Moreland, Ky.
Source: Public Affairs Officer Robert Purdy

Investigators converged on the site of a deadly Aug. 1 explosion along a portion of Enbridge (US) Inc.'s Texas Eastern Transmission LP interstate natural gas pipeline in Lincoln County, Ky., marking the second time this year that a blast has interrupted service on the system.

The explosion occurred around 1:30 a.m. ET in the town of Moreland, Ky., sending flames about 300 feet into the air and killing at least one woman, Kentucky's WKYT-TV reported. Several other people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and 75 people were evacuated from the area, where debris is scattered across about five acres, according to WKYT.

Images posted to Twitter by Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Officer Robert Purdy show swaths of blackened earth and burnt-out vehicles.

Investigations into pipeline explosions such as the Lincoln County blast can often be concluded in several weeks, but the inquiry could stretch on for months since a fatality occurred, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of pipeline investigation and auditing firm Accufacts Inc.

"The trouble is, especially if there's a loss-of-life situation, nobody wants to get ahead of themselves, and so they'll send the pieces to forensic labs, and that will slow it down," he said. "It could take many months to get the full laboratory analysis back. Normally in a situation that takes high priority a couple of months would not be unusual, but I've seen cases where it takes six months to a year."

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, sent an investigator to the scene and was in communication with Kentucky officials and staff at the National Transportation Safety Board, said Darius Kirkwood, public affairs specialist at PHMSA. Subject matter experts from PHMSA's Office of Pipeline Safety were also en route to Lincoln County, and senior leadership is monitoring the situation closely, he said in an email.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission earlier sent at least one staffer to monitor and preserve site integrity until federal investigators arrived, said Andrew Melnykovych, the commission's director of communication.

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In a statement, Enbridge said its teams were also in the area working with first responders to secure the site.

"The [National Transportation Safety Board] is investigating the incident and Enbridge is supporting that investigation," Enbridge said.

The company said it had isolated the affected portion of the Texas Eastern system, which can transport 13 Bcf/d along 8,835 miles of pipe that travel from the U.S. Gulf Coast through the mid-Atlantic and on to the Northeast.

Texas Eastern Transmission declared force majeure on the system south of the Danville Compressor Station, sending flows plunging to zero from a scheduled capacity of 1.8 million Dth/d during the overnight cycle. Enbridge said efforts to restore the line to full capacity were underway, but it could not estimate when restoration would be complete.

On a typical day, about 1.5 million Dth/d to 2 million Dth/d move through the segment of the system that includes the Danville Compressor Station. Enbridge did not immediately return a request for additional details about the affected line and the scope of customer disruptions.

Flows through the section around Danville cratered earlier this year following a blast along another portion of the system in Noble County, Ohio, that affected several other counties in the mid-Atlantic. The explosion injured two people and damaged three homes.

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An April 2016 explosion along the Texas Eastern pipeline in Delmont, Pa., caused surges in Northeast gas prices and prompted PHMSA to order several lines in the system to remain shut.

PHMSA has recorded eight incidents on the Texas Eastern Pipeline since the start of the year, the most on record going back 33 years.