One of the forces most destructive to humans is fire and explosion. Natural gas pipeline explosions, in particular are catastrophic and cause tragic injuries and loss of life. Natural gas is highly flammable, and the massive pipelines that carry gas across the United States are under constant pressure and strain. Companies that own and operate these pipelines must adhere to strict inspection, maintenance, and safety regulations to protect those who live or work nearby.
The exact number of people who live near major natural gas pipelines varies depending on the location and extent of the pipelines. However, it is estimated that millions of people in the U.S. live near natural gas pipelines. These individuals, often unknowingly, are at risk for pipeline explosions if pipes, wells, and valves are not properly maintained.
One of the most tragic examples of how devastating a pipeline explosion can be is that of the Kinder Morgan explosion in 2021. Below, the petrochemical injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia explain the cause of the explosion and discuss the dangers of living near oil and gas wells or pipelines.
Kinder Morgan Pipeline Explosion Highlights Pipeline Safety
In August 2021, two people were killed, and another was seriously injured, when a natural gas pipeline ruptured and exploded near their farmhouse. Line 2000, a pipeline located outside Coolidge, Arizona, was owned and operated by Kinder Morgan, Inc at the time. The explosion occurred after a pipe ruptured and released a flood of natural gas, which then ignited.
The explosion was so catastrophic that a segment of the pipe itself launched more than 100 feet from the crater. The farmhouse that was destroyed was more than 400 feet from the explosion. The family of three inside the home had no idea anything was amiss prior to the explosion. A man and his daughter were killed, and the woman who survived had critical burn injuries.
In addition to the home being destroyed, 33 acres of vegetation were destroyed. The estimated cost of property damage and emergency response was more than $5 million.
Investigation Finds Wrong Coating and Incorrect Reporting
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed startling information following the explosion. Upon investigating the 47-feet of pipeline ejected during the explosion, the NTSB found “colonies” of cracks in the pipe, which had propagated through the wall. There was also evidence of corrosion on the outside of the pipe near a seam weld.
Natural gas pipelines are coated with specific materials that resist corrosion and breakage. The NTSB investigation found, however, that this section of Line 2000 had been improperly coated with the wrong material. A report prior to the explosion stated that the pipeline was coated with fusion-bonded epoxy. In fact, the pipeline was coated with spiral wrap tape coating, which is more vulnerable to corrosion and breakdown.
The NTSB report noted that,
“Spiral wrap tape coating is known by the pipeline industry to be more vulnerable than other coating types to SCC. Had the coating data in PODS been correctly listed as spiral wrap tape coating, as it was at milepost 496.9, the threat of SCC could likely have been identified. However, Kinder Morgan’s IM program did not identify the threat of SCC at the rupture location and thus did not address it.”
By improperly reporting the coating type, Kinder Morgan failed to ensure that the pipeline was, in fact, safe. The NTSB ultimately determined that the probable cause of the explosion was the improper coating on the pipeline. The tape wrap tented, allowing moisture to build up and corrosion to occur. The NTSB further noted that Kinder Morgan contributed to the explosion in their failure to properly identify and record the type of coating on Line 2000.
How Many People Live Near Natural Gas Wells and Pipelines?
Stories like the one above may be good reason to question living near a major pipeline. But how many people are potential at risk for pipeline explosions?
Research from the Environmental Defense Fund suggests that as many as 18 million people live within one mile of active oil and gas wells. According to the PHMSA, as of 2020, there were over 3 million miles of pipelines in the U.S., including over 300,000 miles of major natural gas transmission pipelines. These pipelines transport natural gas from production areas to distribution centers, which then distribute natural gas to homes and businesses.
Many of these pipelines are located in densely populated areas, and it is estimated that over 60 million people in the United States live within a mile of a natural gas transmission pipeline. In some areas, particularly in urban and suburban areas, the number of people living near pipelines can be even higher.
The safety of natural gas pipelines is an important concern for communities located near these pipelines. It is essential that pipeline operators take necessary safety precautions to prevent accidents and incidents, and that communities are informed about safety risks and emergency procedures. Additionally, it is important to promote the use of alternative energy sources and technologies to reduce the dependence on natural gas and the need for extensive pipeline infrastructure.
Is Living Near Natural Gas Pipelines Really Dangerous?
Many people live near natural gas lines that run from facilities to homes and businesses. These are not the pipelines that are most hazardous to communities. Rather, the major pipelines like those in Coolidge, Arizona present unique hazards due to the volume, pressure, and distance traveled.
Living near natural gas pipelines can pose several hazards, including:
- Explosion: Natural gas is highly flammable and explosive. If there is a leak or rupture in a gas line, it can lead to an explosion that can cause significant damage and harm to people and property nearby.
- Fire: Natural gas can ignite easily, and a fire can spread quickly, particularly if there is a leak or if the gas comes into contact with an ignition source.
- Health Risks: Natural gas contains harmful chemicals, such as benzene, which can cause health problems if inhaled or ingested over time. Exposure to natural gas can also cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
- Environmental Impact: Natural gas leaks can harm the environment and contribute to global warming. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that can have a significant impact on climate change.
- Soil and Water Contamination: Natural gas leaks can contaminate soil and groundwater, which can lead to health problems for people and animals.
Natural gas companies that monitor pipelines must take precautions to minimize risks to local communities. This includes regular inspections and maintenance of gas lines, as well as following safety guidelines.
What Causes Natural Gas Pipeline Explosions?
Natural gas pipeline explosions can occur due to a variety of factors, including:
- Gas Leaks: The most common cause of natural gas explosions is gas leaks. Natural gas is highly flammable and explosive, and if there is a leak in a gas line, it can build up in an enclosed area and ignite, causing an explosion.
- Equipment Failure: Natural gas appliances, such as furnaces, boilers, and water heaters, can malfunction or fail, leading to gas leaks and potential explosions.
- Improper Installation or Maintenance: Natural gas appliances must be installed and maintained properly to ensure they are functioning safely. If appliances are installed improperly or not maintained regularly, gas leaks can occur, leading to potential explosions.
- Human Error: Human error can also contribute to natural gas explosions. For example, if someone accidentally damages a gas line while digging or construction work, it can lead to a gas leak and potential explosion.
- Natural Disasters: Natural disasters, such as earthquakes or severe weather events, can damage gas lines and cause leaks that can lead to explosions.
Natural gas explosions are typically caused by a combination of factors, and it is important to take precautions to prevent gas leaks and ensure gas appliances are functioning safely. Regular inspections and maintenance of gas lines and appliances can help reduce the risk of a natural gas explosion.
Injuries or deaths caused by the negligence of a pipeline owner or operator could result in significant civil suits being filed against that company. Pipeline owners and operators have a duty to maintain safety and proper function to prevent incidents and injuries.
How Common are Pipeline Explosions?
Pipeline explosions are rare, but they can be devastating when they occur. The frequency of pipeline explosions varies depending on several factors, including the age and condition of the pipelines, the materials used to construct the pipelines, and the frequency and quality of maintenance and inspections.
According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), there were 117 significant pipeline incidents in the United States in 2020, which includes all incidents that resulted in death or injury, damages over $50,000, or the release of more than 5 barrels (210 gallons) of hazardous materials. Of these incidents, 10 were classified as “serious,” meaning they resulted in death or injury, and 7 were classified as “major,” meaning they resulted in damages of over $1 million.
However, it is important to note that not all pipeline incidents result in explosions. In fact, most incidents involve smaller leaks or spills that can still be hazardous to the environment and public health. Additionally, not all pipeline incidents are caused by natural gas pipelines; incidents can also occur with pipelines carrying other hazardous materials such as crude oil or chemicals.
Can I Sue a Gas Company for a Pipeline Explosion?
Whether or not you can sue a gas company after a pipeline explosion depends on several factors, such as the:
- cause of the explosion
- extent of the damages or injuries
- specific laws and regulations in your state
In general, if the gas company was negligent in the maintenance or operation of the pipeline, and that negligence caused the explosion and resulting damages or injuries, you may be able to sue the company for compensation. However, if the explosion was caused by factors beyond the control of the gas company, such as natural disasters or acts of terrorism, it may be more difficult to hold the company liable.
Contact an Oil and Gas Injury Attorney to Learn More
It is important to consult with an attorney who specializes in oil and gas injury claims if you have questions about an injury. At Kherkher Garcia, our goal is to help you understand your legal options and the options you may have in pursuing a lawsuit. Our attorneys help you evaluate the specific circumstances of your case, gather evidence, and negotiate with the gas company or their insurance company on your behalf.
If negotiations do not result in a favorable outcome, we have the skills and resources you need to take your case to trial. Our attorneys have an excellent track record for getting results our clients need to recover and move on with life following a devastating injury or loss. We want to help you!
To find out more, complete our online contact form, or call us at 713-333-1030 for a free consultation.