After burning intensely for nearly a week, the blaze at Duke Energy’s Moss Bluff underground salt cavern storage facility in rural Liberty County, TX, was extinguished around 9 p.m. (CDT) Wednesday, a company spokeswoman said.
Specialized firefighters from Houston-based Boots & Coots International Well Control on Wednesday were able to go onto the site of the cavern, which is the suspected source of the explosion that caused the fire, to make a clean cut on a 20-inch diameter pipe, enabling it to receive a valve assembly that will be used to cap the well, according to Duke Energy’s Frances Jeter. Installation of the new valve assembly began Thursday afternoon, the company said.
Jeter could not say when the well would be completely capped. “We’re shooting for as soon as possible,” Jeter told Daily GPI at midday Thursday. Liberty County Department of Public Safety authorities planned to wait another day before allowing all residents to return to their homes.
Immediately following the Aug. 19 blast and subsequent fire, Duke Energy issued a force majeure notice indicating that service at the storage facility may be interrupted for up to three months (until Nov. 17). Jeter would not confirm this. The facility has three caverns, but only one was affected by the explosion and week-long fire. She noted it was possible that Duke Energy could re-start service at the two unaffected caverns, while crews are sifting through the debris of the fire-ravaged cavern to assess damage and the cause of the blast.
But “I don’t think we know how long it’s going to take us to get [the unaffected] caverns 2 and 3 into operation,” she said.
Texas Railroad Commission investigators presently “are concerned with securing the site,” according to spokeswoman Stacie Fowler. They don’t expect to start their investigation for a week to 10 days.
The investigators have conducted a “subsidence survey of the surface” to make sure all three caverns are stable, and have determined that the ground has not subsided, she said. “They also have kept an eye on those” nearby pipelines that interconnect with the Moss Bluff storage facility, Fowler noted. They haven’t detected any problems, she said.
A key issue for the Texas commission investigators is whether there will be any evidence left to point to the cause of the blast, given that the fire had been burning for up to a week, Fowler noted.
The blaze broke out in the pre-dawn hours last Thursday following an explosion in a cavern holding 6 Bcf of store gas. No one was injured in either the blast or subsequent fire.
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.
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