DOE: El Paso Blast Reveals Need for 'Modern' Pipes
The explosion and fire on El Paso Natural Gas' system in
southeast New Mexico in August, which killed 12 people, underscores
the need for a newer gas pipeline infrastructure in the United
States, according to a Department of Energy (DOE) report released
This was one of many observations made about the natural gas
industry and other energy sources in the Sept. 27 DOE report,
"Powering the New Economy: Energy Accomplishments, Investments,
The El Paso line in New Mexico "was over forty years old and
showed evidence of corrosion," the report said. It went on to note
the pipeline supplies southern California with a "significant
portion" of the gas needed for electric generation, and that the
region's gas demand was "temporarily met" by dipping into stored
gas following the blast.
This incident shows "we not only need more storage, but
ultimately more natural gas supply and modern infrastructures," the
Preliminary examination of the El Paso pipeline section that
failed in Carlsbad, NM, revealed significant internal corrosion and
pipe-wall loss in some areas of greater than 50%, according to the
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The explosion was the
deadliest gas pipeline accident in the United States.
Many of the natural gas transmission pipelines in the U.S. are
30 to 50 years old, the NTSB said. And while age alone does not
indicate that a pipeline may be unsafe, the board noted that
assessing the integrity of pipelines becomes increasingly more
important as pipeline systems age.
The El Paso line that exploded had never been pressure tested
for leaks or other structural damage, Bob Chipkevich, director of
the NTSB's Office of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety,
testified last week before a committee of the New Mexico
Legislature, according to a news report in the Albuquerque Journal.
The NTSB has scheduled a Pipeline Safety Hearing for Nov. 14-16
in Washington to review available technologies for assessing
pipeline integrity. The hearing is partly in response to six
pipeline accidents currently being investigated by the NTSB ---
including the Carlsbad blast --- that have raised pipeline
integrity issues, it said. More details about the NTSB hearing are
available on its web page at www.ntsb.gov.
"[D]uring the past two years, we have seen several failures
involving aging pipelines. It is time to examine the technologies
available to assess the condition of our pipeline systems," said
NTSB Chairman Jim Hall.
Separately, the DOE report also said Washington needs to
encourage policies and investments that "acknowledge and reflect"
the increasing interdependence of the electricity and natural gas
Moreover, federal lawmakers need to provide incentives to
promote oil and gas development in the "ultra-deep Gulf of Mexico
and in areas to be produced in Alaska," the report said.