The blaze at Duke Energy’s Moss Bluff underground salt cavern storage facility in Liberty County, TX, was continuing into its sixth day Tuesday, but the size and intensity of the fire has decreased significantly, according to company officials.

The flames, which shot 1,000 feet into the sky last Friday following the collapse of a valve assembly, had dwindled to about 200-300 feet Monday, according to Duke Energy spokeswoman Frances Jeter. The company initially had expected the fire to burn out by Saturday.

“The focus [now] is on getting the well capped,” she said. “We don’t know at this time” when crews from Boots & Coots International Well will be able to enter the site and cap it, Jeter noted, adding that “we need to get it cooled first.”

Toward that goal, both the company and Boots & Coots’ crews have welded 14-inch diameter piping to pump 4,500 gallons of water per minute onto the scorching site, she said. In addition, Boots & Coots and the company have constructed heat shields, which would block the heat and make it easier for Boots & Coots to enter the site.

The assembly to cap the well has been fabricated and was to be delivered Monday to the three-cavern storage site, which is located about 40 miles northeast of Houston, Jeter told NGI.

“We have been making checks on the safety” of nearby facilities, she noted. Jeter said neither the two adjoining storage caverns nor the five interconnecting pipelines have been affected by the fire. “The integrity of those facilities are intact.” The interconnecting pipes include interstates Texas Eastern Transmission and Kinder Morgan’s Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America, and intrastates Channel Industries, Kinder Morgan Tejas Gas Pipeline and Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline.

All storage withdrawals and injections at the facility remain “definitely” curtailed, Jeter said. Duke Energy said it was “too early to speculate” as to how long service at the Moss Bluff storage site would be interrupted.

Last week, residents within three miles of the Moss Bluff storage site were evacuated to eight area hotels. But the evacuation zone was reduced to one mile on Sunday, allowing some residents to voluntarily return to their homes, Jeter said. For those who have chosen not to go back to their homes yet, “we still are covering their expenses in hotel rooms.”

The blaze broke out in the pre-dawn hours last Thursday following an explosion in a cavern holding 6 Bcf of stored gas. No one was injured in either the blast or subsequent fire. The Texas Railroad Commission is said to be the lead agency investigating the cause of the explosion, as well as assessing the impact of the blast/fire on the surrounding community and the pipelines that interconnect to the storage facility.

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

©Copyright 2004 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.