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REX Bulldozer Driver Killed in WIC Rupture; Supply Shut in or Rerouted

The driver of a bulldozer working on the Rockies Express pipeline was killed Saturday at 9:30 a.m. when the bulldozer apparently hit El Paso Corp.'s Wyoming Interstate Co. (WIC) pipeline about 10 miles south-southwest of Cheyenne, WY, causing an explosion. The rupture of the large diameter pipe, which was in a very remote area of ranch land, led to a massive fireball that rose hundreds of feet in the air. The fire was extinguished Saturday afternoon.

"You've got a crater estimated to be about 17 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter," said El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley. "When I was there the bulldozer was still in the hole. The deceased man had been removed from the scene at that time. The 36-inch [diameter] pipeline had been laid bare. We have an investigation ongoing into what occurred. Apparently it was a situation involving the caterpillar operator coming in contact with the line."

The bulldozer operator was later identified as Bobby Ray Owens Jr., 52, of Louisiana, an employee with Associated Pipe Line Contractors Inc. of Houston. Kinder Morgan said it has halted work on this portion of the Rockies Express project, a $4.4 billion pipeline system that will eventually cross 1,663 miles and reach Clarington, OH, transporting as much as 1.8 Bcf/d of gas to eastern markets.

The WIC rupture occurred on the Duck Creek Ranch, which is about two miles north of the Colorado state line. WIC stretches 600 miles from southwestern Wyoming to eastern Wyoming and northern Colorado. Its terminus is at the Cheyenne Hub where multiple other systems, including Cheyenne Plains, receive gas and take it to markets along the Front Range of the Rockies, the Midcontinent and the Midwest. The entire WIC system has a design capacity of about 1.9 Bcf/d.

Wheatley said despite the loss of 770 MMcf/d of gas flowing through the ruptured line the company still expects to be able to continue serving markets, including customers in the Denver area. He said El Paso intends to reroute some of the production using Colorado Interstate Gas and potentially other systems. However, he also said that significant gas production that was tied into WIC will have to be shut in or rerouted until pipeline repairs can be made.

"We have a 24-inch [diameter] and a 22-inch [diameter] line in that area and we were able to do some rerouting of gas," said Wheatley. "We don't believe that in the consuming markets there will be any [direct] impact. But because it's a mainline coming over from the western part of Wyoming and the Powder River we do have some producer impacts.

"We estimate it will take several days to be repaired, but that's just an estimate because the line will have to be purged, inspected [and rebuilt]," he said. Wheatley said that line replacement was staged to move very quickly.

WIC declared a force majeure and said in a bulletin board notice that all transport volumes through the Laramie, WY, compressor station were shut in and scheduled to zero. Trailblazer Pipeline, Rockies Express (REX) and TransColorado Gas Transmission also posted critical notices that their operations are being affected by the outage.

"We expect that this event will result in significant disruptions to western natural gas markets," said Denver-based consulting firm Bentek Energy in a note to clients of its new Flash pipeline notice system (see market story). "Although El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley indicated in press reports that 'any impact would likely be minimal because the company could use alternate pipelines,' we believe he was referring to the likelihood of significant shut-ins, not to the impact on market prices and flows. We believe that it is likely that significant regional flow dislocations and basis disarray will occur."

Bentek noted that 770 MMcf/d of gas that would normally flow to Denver and the Midcontinent market will be lost until the pipeline is repaired. "WIC delivers the largest volume of gas into the Cheyenne Hub where gas flows east on Trailblazer, Cheyenne Plains and CIG into the Midcontinent markets."

Bentek said Sunday evening cycle nominations showed WIC deliveries down by 215,715 MMBtu into Cheyenne Plains and [down] by 263,001 MMBtu into Trailblazer. On the supply end, Rockies Express curtailed deliveries into WIC as did TransColorado and Questar. Gas was being backed up into the Green River and Piceance-Unita Basins. Some gas was being rerouted to Opal. Cash prices across the region plummeted to their lowest levels in years.

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