Natural gas explosion rocks Westmoreland County and U.S. gas markets
May 1, 2016 6:09 PM
A burned-out car and charred trees remain after a nearby explosion.
This house along Route 819 in Salem caught fire during the explosion nearby.
The explosion cause the white siding from this house and garage in Salem to melt off the front.
The view from Route 22 of an explosion that erupted at a gas well site in Salem, Westmoreland County.
Emergency personnel respond near the scene of a possible gas well explosion and fire in Salem Township on Friday morning.
Emergency personnel near the scene of a possible gas well explosion and fire in Salem Township on Friday morning.
People near the scene of a possible gas well explosion and fire in Salem Township on Friday morning.
By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A natural gas pipeline explosion in Westmoreland County Friday morning sent an injured man to the hospital, damaged two homes, charred trees and melted a road, with the intense blaze that followed triggering waves of sound, heat and panic through the surrounding area.
A large Texas Eastern transmission line — 30 inches in diameter — burst open around 8:15 a.m. in Salem, shooting flames into the sky that could be seen for miles. Residents reported hearing a deafening gush of air.
The impact spread beyond Western Pennsylvania, as the explosion rocked U.S. commodity markets on Friday, sending natural gas prices to their highest levels in 13 weeks over concerns that the incident could disrupt natural gas supplies.
In Salem, the blast shattered what had been a routine morning. “The windows were moving. It sounded like a bunch of jets,” said Diane Brown, who lives on Croft Road, about half a mile from the site of the explosion. “You could feel the heat on your face.”
Emergency crews took a man who had been inside his home when the line exploded to UPMC Mercy Hospital. His condition was not clear. Officials evacuated about a dozen homes within a quarter mile and closed a portion of Route 819 for hours.
Pete Rugh, 84, who had lived in the Salem area all his life, said he’s been afraid of a natural gas rupture since the network pipelines were first laid in the 1950s. His home, just up the hill from the site of the explosion, lit up in orange just as Mr. Rugh was sitting down in his easy chair to read the morning paper.
The fire burned so brightly he thought it was just outside his window.
“I jumped in my truck and took off,” he said.
PG map: Site of pipeline explosion (Click image for larger version)
Mr. Rugh tried unsuccessfuly to reach his sister-in-law, who lives a few hundred yards from the pipeline break. He called his niece’s husband, whose white house had turned brown from the smoke. Everyone was fine and accounted for, but the damage was striking.
“I could see the black smoke from the shingles going up in the air,” Mr. Rugh said.
The source of the gas was shut off at 9:22 a.m., said John Poister, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which responded to the accident and was monitoring nearby gas wells.
The area is saturated with natural gas infrastructure.
Spectra Energy, the Houston-based parent company of Texas Eastern, said there are four parallel pipelines in the immediate vicinity. The company began releasing gas on those lines Friday afternoon “out of an abundance of caution.”
The Delmont Compressor Station, a large complex of tanks and pipes that process natural gas, is less than two miles away, and a natural gas storage field that spans 39 square miles lies underneath the pipelines.
Dominion Transmission, which owns the Oakford storage complex that includes more than 100 injection and monitoring wells, confirmed that all of its wells — including one within 200 yards of the fire — are intact. That well was shut in as a precaution.
Texas Eastern has nearly 9,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, about 2,000 of which are in Pennsylvania.
The line that burst was built in 1981. Spectra said in a statement that when the line was last inspected in 2012, it “revealed no areas requiring repair or remediation before the next inspection.”
Because the pipeline is an interstate transmission line, the investigation is being led by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The damage to the pipeline that crosses half the U.S. is disrupting natural gas shipments from Western Pennsylvania to the Northeast.
Spectra Energy Corp. at midday declared that due to the incident, there would be an unplanned outage, and that it was unclear when service will be restored. That sent natural gas futures surging as much as 5.6 percent on the New York Mercantile Exchange on speculation that the outage will limit supplies to the Northeast.
Anya Litvak: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1455. Bloomberg News contributed.