Hundreds of documents detail events of Sissonville pipeline expl - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Hundreds of documents detail events of Sissonville pipeline explosion

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Federal authorities on June 6 released more than 1,400 documents related to the explosion of the Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline that destroying three homes and ejecting 20 feet of pipeline more than 40 feet from it's original location.

The explosion happened just 100 feet west of Interstate 77 and destroyed the roadway. There were no serious injuries resulting from the explosion.

The NTSB's data release are primarily transcripts of interviews and photos collected during the investigation. At a later date, the agency will release a report that analyzes that data for conclusions and probable cause expected once the investigation is completed.

Anthony Fizer, an employee with Cabot Oil and Gas, made one of the early calls to Columbia Gas to let people there know something had happened.

"Well, morning that that happened, I was -- I received a call from one of our field guys and wanting to know if I had heard or saw anything on our screen because he had just heard a huge boom, as he described it, like a bomb going off, as he was driving down the road, which is -- I guess the road to the compressor station wasn't far from where that happened," Fizer said. "I told him I didn't see anything at the time, so he calls me back in a matter of just a few minutes and described to me as a big flame. He said, there's -- in his words, he said there's flames shooting over the interstate is what he told me. At that time I didn't really know what to think. I'm just looking at my screen and I'm not seeing anything happening."

According to some of the interviews, when flames leapt into the sky last Dec. 11 at 12:41 p.m., many of Columbia's management that would later take over the emergency response were just finishing up their Christmas meal at Texas Steakhouse in Kanawha City.

"And we had just had finished eating and I'd actually stepped out and went to the restroom, and when I came back I noticed Steve (Nelson) was gone and someone said they thought there was -- he'd gotten a call," said Richard Smith, operations team leader. "And so I was actually taking care of the bill, you know, for everyone to leave and then that's when Steve contacted me by phone and at that point in time asked me to send some pipeliners out, you know, to the various locations there to, you know, to isolate, you know, our pipeline system."

Another manager said he received a text that said "911, please call me." A signal that all else was to be dropped.

Meanwhile at the control center, confusion was setting in for those monitoring the systems and watching the pressure drop on the buried 20-inch diameter Line SM-80 natural gas transmission pipeline, owned and operated by Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation, that had ruptured near Route 21 and Derricks Creek. Initially operators had difficulty locating the precise location of the problem.

William Christian, director of gas control, said television reports of the fire began to reveal the story behind what was happening on the screens of the control room.

"Believe it or not, within less than 15 minutes, we saw a picture on television which is -- this day and age, it doesn't take long, from someone on Interstate 77 had apparently taken a snapshot in their car and either tweeted or e-mailed the local news station," Christian said. "So it was a breaking news story with just a still photo and that was the first moment that we realized how -- what we had through there."

Christian said immediately the company was tasked with finding out what to do about rerouting that gas supply.

"And from there on in, it's what to do with a billion foot of gas on the west and the loss of a billion on the east, which -- and our guys chipped in and made the changes on our system to go ahead and continue serving the market and the line was isolated, and thereon in it's really into the field and -- we ran a model to make sure, you know, what the loss of that system would do, that we could maintain the markets for the night, which we could, looking at storage fields around and covering the D.C. market."

He added that as far as supply control the Sissonville situation was fairly easily manageable.

"My biggest challenge was making sure that where the line break was, which side of the valve segments that it was, so that we could make sure we had the right valves," Christian said. "Because over the course of time, if you just haphazardly close the wrong valve and are not sure what you're doing -- you know, people say you can just push a button and close a valve here and there you're going, but until you know, you have boots on the ground, you know which valve you're closing, if you close the wrong one, you can actually introduce higher pressure or take market off and actually put more gas into the fire."

Columbia employees weren't the only ones monitoring the amount of gas and trying to find the appropriate response to the situation.

Sissonville Fire Chief Tim Gooch had his men waiting to respond, only taking exception when it was discovered one woman was still trapped around the flames.

"Gas, like I say, is the safest when it's burning. Whatever pressure, ever how much there is, that gas was burning and it was the safest, as far as my standpoint," Gooch said. "We weren't going to go into the scene because we were told that all the persons in the homes were either accounted for -- at that time, I wasn't real sure that they were accounted for, but I was not going to -- being that the fireball, and the gas hasn't been shut off yet, I was not going to send my personnel into that environment, because everything that had been destroyed was already gone, and you risk nothing to save nothing."

In its preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board determined the rupture occurred in a section of pipeline that had corroded significantly. Much of the investigators' questioning centered on the company's corrosion control and prevention measures.

"The outside surface of the pipe was heavily corroded near the midpoint and along the longitudinal fracture," the preliminary report states. "The thinned area was approximately 6 feet in the longitudinal direction and 2 feet in the circumferential direction. The lowest wall thickness measured was 0.078 inches."

Other lines of questioning centered on Columbia's alert systems and investigators questioned regarding a system of alarms versus alerts. The amount of pressure drop that would trigger an alert, several Columbia managers said, was set at the operator's discretion and did not automatically initiate action.