DEP: Marshall Pipeline Rupture Scorched Trees Over Two Acres

MOUNDSVILLE – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection continues investigating the Williams Energy 12-inch natural gas pipeline rupture that took place in Marshall County’s Marcellus Shale field a week ago.

“The explosion created a 10-foot crater, and the resulting fire scorched trees over an approximately 2-acre area,” DEP spokeswoman Kelley J. Gillenwater said Friday.

“The rupture most likely occurred at a weld point in the pipeline, which was buried and along a steep slope,” she added, noting there was anywhere from 600-900 pounds per square-inch of pressure on the line at the time.

Although both the DEP and Williams agree no one was injured because of the April 5 pipeline rupture, they differ on the scale of the damage.

“There were no reported injuries associated with the April 5 incident; initial assessment of damage is vegetation in a one-acre area,” Williams spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said Friday in a prepared statement.

Gillenwater said the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas, which is the arm of the agency tasked with issuing drilling permits, turned the investigation over to the Environmental Enforcement division.

According to Williams, the ruptured pipeline leads to the Oak Grove site, which is one of three Williams points of operation in Marshall County, along with the Fort Beeler site along U.S. 250 and the fractionation site along W.Va. 2.

Gastar Exploration is one of several drillers for whom Williams processes and transports natural gas drawn from Marshall County, with others including Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Stone Energy, Noble Energy and Trans Energy. Most of Gastar’s operations are in the southwestern portion of the county, as the driller fracks wells just up the hill from the Axiall Corp. plant along W.Va. 2.

According to Gastar, the driller saw its levels of production plummet because of the rupture, noting about two-thirds of the company’s production was “shut-in” from Saturday through Wednesday evening due to the pipeline problem.

Gastar officials said Williams is now diverting Gastar’s production into a larger pipeline it operates to the south of Gastar’s acreage that feeds the Fort Beeler station.

Humphreys said her company restored service to customers such as Gastar around 1:30 p.m. Friday. Along with the DEP, Williams continues to investigate the cause of the rupture.

Williams also restored service to a nearby 4-inch pipeline that workers drained in the rupture’s aftermath as a precautionary measure.

Humphreys said Williams evacuated residents of five homes in the vicinity of the Saturday rupture for precautionary purposes.

However, other residents such as Frank Elza Jr. and his family fled without receiving direction to evacuate.

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said Middle Grave Creek Road re-opened to traffic around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. This is about the time Elza and those who evacuated were allowed to return home.