Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corrosion Discovered Four Years before Blast Investigation Finds Gas Pipeline Had Coating Problems in 2012

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corrosion Discovered Four Years before Blast Investigation Finds Gas Pipeline Had Coating Problems in 2012

Article excerpt

The April 29 explosion of a natural gas pipeline in Westmoreland County was caused by corrosion so aggressive that it is challenging industry models for how quickly a small anomaly can grow into a fireball, Spectra Energy officials said Tuesday.

The Texas-based company - whose Texas Eastern pipeline ruptured five months ago, destroying James Baker's house in Salem and badly burning him - said it had never seen corrosion eat at the walls of a pipeline with such speed.

A 2012 test of the interior of the pipeline revealed that, at that point, the spot that failed had already lost a third of its metal due to corrosion.

But Spectra officials said that did not trigger them to act or move up their next inspection date, scheduled for 2019, because they were assuming, based on industry experience, that at worst it would lose another 2 percent or 3 percent a year.

"What we saw was about 10 to 15 percent a year, or about five times what conservative assessments would be based on," said Andy Drake, vice president of operations and environmental health and safety for Spectra.

"We've never seen anything like this before," Mr. Drake said Tuesday evening at a public meeting with the Salem Township board of supervisors, federal and state officials, Westmoreland County residents and Helen Baker, Mr. Baker's mother.

"Here we stand before you apologizing that we were not far enough ahead of this," he said. "This is the challenges we've put to ourselves: Imagine a person standing next to this pipe -your son, your mother -are we comfortable that this pipe is absolutely safe everywhere?"

Ms. Baker came to the event clutching a piece of paper but she never got the nerve to speak. Instead, she sat quietly, sobbing and texting with her son, who had been released from the hospital earlier this month.

Her sister, Carol Webb, spoke for the family. She said Mr. Baker, who cannot walk, is "doing well," and comes to family functions, but he's not the same.

"I thank God he's alive, and only God knows the tears that this family has shed," she said. "This storm, this horrific thing that happened, we live with it daily."

Ms. …

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