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ATEX Ruptures, Limiting Key Appalachian Ethane Deliveries

A section of Enterprise Products Partners LP's (EPP) Appalachia-to-Texas Express (ATEX) pipeline, which entered commercial service a year ago, ruptured and caught fire early Monday, limiting service on a critical ethane outlet that serves the Marcellus and Utica shales, a company spokesman said.

The incident occurred at about 10:40 a.m. EST on a 20-inch diameter section of the pipeline in Brooke County, WV, roughly 50 miles west of Pittsburgh, said EPP spokesman Rick Rainey. According to local news media reports, residents in the area reported seeing a large fireball burst into the sky. Although emergency responders from several different agencies in the region had responded and managed to gain control of the blast, the fire was still burning Monday afternoon. Authorities planned to let the fire extinguish itself.

"Our controllers detected an abnormal pressure drop at a pump station in Brooke County, WV, and then shortly afterward it was confirmed we did have a rupture on the pipeline," Rainey said. "We then began to immediately isolate the pipeline and dispatched personnel to work with local emergency responders to secure the area."

The 1,265-mile ATEX began commercial service in January 2014 (see Shale DailyDec. 5, 2013). It originates in Washington County, PA, in a liquids-rich portion of the Marcellus Shale and terminates at EPP's Mont Belvieu, TX, complex. It has a capacity of 125,000 b/d, and at the time it was commissioned, EPP said that 65,000 b/d were already contracted.

The pipeline has four injection points and two were impacted by the blast. Rainey said deliveries are still being made downstream of the rupture site, but those coming from Washington County have been limited. He added that it was unclear what caused the rupture. The section that exploded, Rainey said, was part of a 369-mile segment that was only recently built for the system.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said the agency had dispatched an inspector to the scene, but added that the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has jurisdiction because ATEX is an interstate line. PHMSA officials could not be reached to comment.

No injuries were reported in the blast and the Brooke County Sheriff's Department said only one nearby home was evacuated as a precaution.

Rainey said EPP has mobilized equipment and personnel that "will commence repairs once it's safe to do so" and after PHMSA allows it. 

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