Ethane Pipeline Blast Creates Fireball

FOLLANSBEE – A 20-inch diameter ATEX Express pipeline ruptured Monday in Brooke County, creating flames visable for several miles.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said the first calls reporting the fire came at about 10:40 a.m. Monday, and didn’t stop for several hours.

“We were getting a lot – probably over 100 – 911 calls about an explosion,” Jackson said. “We began asking people if they heard two explosions, but they all just reported hearing the one.”

Jackson said the blast caused no injuries or property damage for local landowners, but said two families along Archer Hill Road evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Because of the snow covered roads, a Follansbee Fire Department truck became stuck while the driver tried to respond to the fire. Officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways, Brooke County Sheriff’s Department and local fire departments blocked the roadways leading to the fire.

“They turned the gas off, but it’s my understanding that it takes a while to burn out,” Jackson said late Monday as the flames continued flaring. “We really would just like to know what caused it so something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Rick Rainey is a spokesman for Houston, Texas-based Enterprise Products Partners, which operates the 1,260-mile long ATEX pipeline, said company officials noticed a pressure drop at the Follansbee pump station.

“We detected a pressure drop at our Follansbee pump station. We then alerted the proper parties,” Rainey said. “The local responders all did a great job.”

Rainey said his firm will work with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to determine the cause of the blast. He said the line will not operate again until PHMSA officials approve.

“We just really don’t know at this point,” Rainey added regarding the potential reason for the line failure.

The company began shipping ethane southward in January 2014. Along its route to Mont Belvieu, Texas, the pipeline collects ethane from four natural gas processing plants in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions:

— the MarkWest Energy facilities in Houston, Pa. and in Cadiz;

— the Blue Racer Natrium facility in Marshall County; and

— the M3 Midstream Utica East Ohio facility in Scio.

The MarkWest Cadiz plant and the M3 Midstream plants will continue to place ethane into the line because Rainey said these facilities are “downstream” from the Brooke County rupture site, while the others will see service stop until the line is repaired.

Ethane – along with propane, butane, isobutane and pentane – is one of the forms of natural gas liquids often prevalent in wet shale gas, along with the dry methane. Because there is still no ethane cracker plant in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, many companies ship their ethane via the ATEX so the product can be processed at crackers along the Gulf Coast.

Rainey said designed daily capacity for the ATEX is 125,000 barrels of ethane, but said 80,000 barrels is the current load.