An early-morning explosion rocked Duke Energy’s Moss Bluff underground salt cavern storage facility on Thursday in Liberty County, TX, just northeast of Houston, sending flames high into the sky and forcing the company to cut off all natural gas service at the facility. No injuries or damage to the area surrounding the storage site were reported, the company said.

“There are no other concerns that this is going to move any further,” Liberty County Sheriff Bill Tidwell told NGI. It was “too early” to determine the cause, he said.

Initial reports said the source of the explosion, which occurred at about 4:15 a.m. CDT, was in a single cavern that has a storage capacity of 6 Bcf. But “we have not confirmed that,” said Duke Energy spokeswoman Gretchen Krueger. Two other nearby storage caverns at the site were not affected by the intense fire, but all storage withdrawals and injections have been curtailed.

Moss Bluff issued a force majeure notice shortly after the blast, suspending operations “until further notice.” It said it “will keep its customers advised [of] the extent of the damage…and the prospects of returning to service.”

The throughput on the five pipelines that interconnect with the Moss Bluff facility has not been impacted, Krueger said. Pipes interconnecting with the storage operation include interstates Texas Eastern Transmission, which delivers gas to the Northeast, and Kinder Morgan’s Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America (NGPL), which supplies gas to the Midwest. Also interconnecting are intrastate pipes Channel Industries, Kinder Morgan Tejas Gas Pipeline and Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline, all of which serve the Texas market.

There has been “no impact on meeting customer obligations” for the three Kinder Morgan lines, said spokesman Rick Rainey. The Kinder Morgan intrastate pipelines are storage customers of Moss Bluff, as well as providers of transportation service. “We will continue to evaluate [the situation],” he said, but it’s premature to talk about what action the Kinder Morgan pipes will take in the event Moss Bluff should remain closed for an extended period.

“We do have some flexibility on our system but it’s too early [to] speculate about long-term effects until we know the full impact to Duke’s operation,” Rainey told NGI.

Given the timing of the explosion — late summer vs. the dead of winter when gas supplies are stretched — the loss of stored gas at Moss Bluff was not expected to have a marked effect on the level of overall gas inventories. At most 5-6 Bcf of gas was burned up, while the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported the industry injected thirteen times that amount (78 Bcf) into storage last week, pushing total storage past the 2.5 Tcf mark (see related story). However the blast, combined with the bullish storage figure, gave gas future prices a nudge upwards Thursday, with the September contract climbing 12.5 cents to close at $5.507.

The fire still was burning at 5 p.m. Thursday and was “pretty spectacular.” But it “has been confined to our facility,” located about 40 miles northeast of Houston, Krueger said. She noted only one storage employee was on duty at the time of the explosion, and he was not injured.

Firefighters and hazardous materials teams from several departments were on the scene, and the well-firefighting team of Boots & Coots also was at the storage site to help decide whether to allow the blaze to burn itself out, the Houston Chronicle reported.

It’s “too early to speculate” as to how long service at the Moss Bluff storage facility will be interrupted, Krueger noted.

The high-deliverability Moss Bluff storage facility serves 13 customers, including marketers, pipelines and local distribution companies, with 16 Bcf of working gas capacity in three caverns. With 1.2 Bcf/d of send-out capacity, Moss Bluff is ranked 11th in the nation in terms of deliverability.

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