CenterPoint Energy officials are investigating what caused one of the company's gas lines to explode Thursday morning around 8 a.m. in Minneapolis, MN. While the explosion and resulting fireball could be seen for miles, no injuries were reported as of Thursday afternoon and repair work was under way.

The explosion occurred at the intersections of 60th Street and Nicollet Street in Minneapolis. Following the blast, emergency responders shut down Highway 62, east and west, as well as Interstate 35 W as precautions, CenterPoint said. Emergency responders evacuated people in homes and business within a six-block radius of the intersection of 60th and Nicollet. All were allowed to begin returning to their homes and businesses at around 10:40 a.m.

The leak and ignition occurred on a 20-inch steel natural gas line that serves the Greater Minneapolis area, the utility said. The section of the line was installed in 1994. No customers lost natural gas service as a result of the fire except for a handful of those who requested their natural gas service be shut off, the utility said.

The spotlight on pipeline safety has never been brighter than in the wake of a recent string of pipeline incidents, which have claimed the lives of 13 people. Last September an explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline killed eight people and destroyed 35 homes in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, Nov. 2, 2010; Sept. 13, 2010). Last month five people were killed in the explosion of an underground gas line in Allentown, PA, owned by utility UGI Corp. (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14a; Feb. 11). Also last month a segment of the 36-inch diameter Tennessee Gas Pipeline, owned and operated by El Paso Corp., exploded and caused a fire near Dungannon, OH (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14b).

"On behalf of all CenterPoint Energy employees, I want to say first and foremost we are thankful that there were no injuries as a result of this incident," said Tal Centers, vice president of gas operations for CenterPoint. "Safety is our top priority; we have completed safety checks in the area and want to assure the public that the area is safe."

Centers said CenterPoint is working with the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board to conduct "a full and thorough investigation" into the cause of this incident.

"Incidents like the one today are extremely rare; however any incident no matter the size is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly," added Centers.

Houston-based CenterPoint is Minnesota's largest natural gas distribution utility, serving about 800,000 customers in 260 communities.

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