Natural Gas Liquids Pipeline Explodes in Illinois

Earlier this week, a natural gas liquids pipeline exploded in western Illinois. This pipeline was a different diameter than the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline (10 inches, rather than 24 inches), and it wasn’t owned by either of the two companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline (Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners). Even so, it provides a reminder of the safety hazards associated with NGL pipelines.

Here’s how Think Progress described the explosion:

A little after 11 p.m. local time in the western Illinois town of Erie, residents heard a massive blast and then saw flames shooting 300 feet into the air, visible for 20 miles.

A cornfield had just exploded.

Underneath the cornfield, a natural gas pipeline carrying gas byproducts ethane and propane had somehow ruptured, caught fire, and exploded, sending gouts of smoke into the air. Around 80 families within a one-mile radius of the blast were initially evacuated, though by Tuesday morning, all but two had returned to their homes.

This eyewitness video of the fire following the blast reported that air traffic controllers in Kansas City, Missouri heard from overflying aircraft that they could see this fire in Pawnee, Illinois — more than 160 miles from Erie.

The pipeline is owned by Enterprise Products Partners, a Texas-based company. A spokesman confirmed that this was an NGL pipeline, transporting the materials from Iowa City to a petrochemical plant near Chicago. It’s part of the company’s Mid-America Pipeline System, which has more than 7,800 miles of pipeline.

Last week, Williams company representatives were in Kentucky at information sessions, making the case for the Bluegrass Pipeline. The company says it’s received permission from 93 percent of the landowners they’ve approached to survey, but the people who showed up to the meetings raised concerns about the pipeline’s safety and environmental footprint.

In a letter responding to questions raised in a Franklin County Fiscal Court meeting, this is what Williams representative Wendell Hunt had to say about pipeline safety:

Safety is a key part of the Bluegrass Pipeline design and development. Part of operating Bluegrass Pipeline will include training with first responders in the unlikely event of an incident on the pipeline, as well as educating Kentuckians about the “call before you dig” program to reduce the likelihood of an incident.

Reportable incidents are public record. The Manhattan Research Institute shows conclusively that pipelines are by far the safest mode of transportation for natural gas and hazardous liquids. In fact, there is a 37x higher incident rate for transporting hazardous materials by rail than by pipeline. Road incidents occur at an even greater rate.

Here’s a video of the explosion in Illinois:

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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