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ETP to Inspect Entire Blast-Damaged Gas Pipeline in Pennsylvania

Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP) representatives said late Monday the company plans to inspect the entire 24-inch diameter segment of the Revolution pipeline system that runs from Butler County, PA, to Washington County, PA, after part of it exploded during commissioning operations earlier in the day.

“We’ll be inspecting the full line, looking at areas where, with all of this rain, there may be other areas that we need to take a look at and go back in to do some additional work,” said spokesperson Vicki Granado, who traveled from Dallas to address news media and local residents from Center Township in Beaver County, PA, where the ruptured pipeline destroyed a house, garage and multiple vehicles. There were no injuries.

Heavy rain that has fallen throughout the region since late last week finally moved out Monday. However, ETP management suspects that unstable ground caused the pipeline, which is buried about three feet below the surface, to slip and explode. The impacted section was isolated and the fire extinguished itself once the gas flow was cut.

“The gas caught some ignition source when it leaked out,” said Center Township Police Chief Barry Kramer, when asked to describe the accounts of residents living nearby who were evacuated for part of the day. “I don’t think there was time to smell it. It happened relatively quickly, although I don’t know that for sure.” 

All evacuees within a half-mile of the explosion, in 25-30 homes, have since been allowed to return to their residences, Kramer said late Monday.

The pipeline was placed into service last week and is part of the broader Revolution system, which gathers wet gas and also includes 30-inch diameter pipeline and has a capacity of more than 400 MMcf/d. At the time of the blast, the company was in the process of purging and packing the gathering lines that feed ETP’s Revolution Plant in Washington County, where construction was recently completed. The plant would deliver tailgate volumes to affiliate Rover Pipeline’s Burgettstown lateral.

The explosion is unlikely to have any meaningful impacts on the line’s producer customers or other interstate pipelines, such as those owned by Columbia Gas Transmission LLC or National Fuel Gas Co., in the area, Genscape Inc. analyst Vanessa Witte said. ETP in 2015 inked a long-term deal with privately owned EdgeMarc Energy Holdings LLC, announcing at the time that it would build the cryogenic gas processing plant, a fractionator and the gathering lines to facilitate the agreement.

EdgeMarc has subscribed to more than 160 MMcf/d on Rover. Witte said the incident could limit some volumes from reaching the Burgettstown lateral, which was only recently authorized for service by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and has shown no scheduled nominations yet.

ETP has also said there are other producer customers subscribed to the Revolution system, but it’s unclear who they are. The area where the blast occured is also in an older area of the Marcellus Shale with less production than other parts of the basin. 

October gas futures contract settled slightly higher on Monday on stronger cash prices in key markets and the explosion. With little change in weather models, and the small shifts pointing to cooler weather in the days ahead, market observers pinned Monday’s rally partly on the Revolution system incident.

ETP has previously said natural gas liquids from the Revolution Plant could eventually be shipped on its Mariner East system to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia. Part of Mariner East (ME) has faced repeated delays and fines due to regulatory issues and legal challenges.

Environmental groups stepped up their opposition to the ME 2 project following Monday’s incident. Food & Water Watch organizer Sam Rubin said it was a “terrifying reminder that pipelines fail.” He called on public officials to halt ME 2, which runs through residential areas along its 350-mile route from one side of the state to the other.

ETP’s 24-inch diameter gathering line had been under construction for about a year, Granado said. While authorities knew about the construction, Kramer said they did not know that the company was commissioning the line. One resident at the press conference pointed out that nobody living near the pipeline knew gas was flowing through it, expressing hope that the company could better communicate with the community in the future.

“If that’s something we need to look at, how we’re communicating, we’ll certainly do that,” Granado told the crowd. She added that the pipeline has an operational capacity of 1,440 psi, but noted that pressures were nowhere near that point as the line was just started up.

The explosion also toppled six high-tension towers owned by FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary West Penn Power, bringing down electricity lines and cutting power to Duquesne Light Co. customers as well. Power has since been restored, the authorities said, but the companies still are working on infrastructure.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is overseeing the investigation. The PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement said that it does not comment on the details of investigations until they result in enforcement action or a formal petition or complaint has been filed before the commission.

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