September 9, 2020

By Member Jennifer Homendy, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Compass

Today marks 10 years since the devastating natural gas pipeline rupture that shattered a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The September 9, 2010, explosion destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. Even worse, 8 people were killed, 10 people sustained serious injuries, and many others suffered minor injuries.

The Accident

When I think of San Bruno, I struggle with the ‘right’ words to describe the horrific events that unfolded shortly after 6:00 p.m.—a time when many families across our nation are just sitting down for dinner.

In the moments after the rupture, calls flooded into 911, with reports of what many thought was a plane crash, a gas station explosion, or some combination of the two. One caller said it felt like an earthquake, and a fire captain who was on scene said, “It looked like Armageddon.” In fact, the rupture was so explosive that it produced a crater about 72 feet long by 26 feet wide and launched a 28-foot section of failed pipe about 100 feet south of the crater. The released gas almost immediately ignited. Emergency responders arrived within minutes to battle the ensuing inferno, yet it took Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) an astonishing 95 minutes to shut off the flow of gas that was intensifying the destruction. Firefighting efforts continued for 2 days, with 600 firefighters and 325 law enforcement personnel on scene.  

San Bruno, CA, accident scene with the crater in the foreground and the ruptured pipe section in the background
San Bruno, CA, accident scene with the crater in the foreground and the ruptured pipe section in the background

NTSB Warnings

I’m not going to get into the numerous failures at PG&E that led to the rupture. I want to focus on those 95 minutes. In December 1970, the NTSB released a Special Study of Effects of Delay in Shutting Down Failed Pipeline Systems and Methods of Providing Rapid Shutdown. You read that right—1970. We found that delays in shutting down pipelines increase the magnitude of catastrophe, and that, when the flow of gas or hazardous liquid is stopped soon after an initial rupture, the effects of many accidents would have been minimized or eliminated. In other words, numerous lives could’ve been saved, and injuries prevented.

Our report highlighted the 1968 rupture of a medium-pressure gas line in front of a daycare in Hapeville, Georgia. Construction crews on scene were unable to locate the buried valve to shut off the gas flow. A few minutes later, an explosion occurred inside the daycare. The ensuing fire engulfed the building and nine people were killed, including seven children. Three other children were seriously injured.

Nine other incidents—all involving failures to shut down pipelines—were cited in the report, and many more have occurred since it was published. The common theme? What we said in 1970 held true in San Bruno and holds true today: “For every one of the accidents cited, there are devices or equipment currently available which probably could have prevented the accident or greatly minimized its effect.”

We’ve been urging federal regulators to require those devices for 50 years! In fact, they’re still on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

The San Bruno Investigation

Getting back to San Bruno. In those crucial 95 minutes during which the gas continued to flow, PG&E control center staff knew there had been a rupture along the pipeline, but never once called 911. The three PG&E employees who first arrived on scene, two of whom were supervisors, had no idea how to operate mainline valves. They had to call people who were qualified to operate them, and by the time those mechanics located the valves and got to the first one, it was 7:20 p.m., over an hour after the rupture occurred. Meanwhile, the fire, described by NTSB investigators as a massive blowtorch, was still raging.

Because gas was being supplied to the break from both the north and the south, the shutoff valves closest to the break had to be closed to shut down and isolate the rupture. The shutoff valves were located about 1.5 miles apart, on either end of the break, and they had to be shut manually. Had PG&E installed readily available technology—valves with remote closure capability or ones that would automatically shut off the gas flow in response to pressure changes in the line—the amount of time the fire burned, and thus, the severity of the accident, could’ve been significantly reduced. In fact, this technology could’ve stopped the flow of gas the moment the rupture was detected.

In our final report on the accident, we recommended that federal regulators—the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)—require  pipeline companies to install automatic shutoff valves or remote shutoff valves in High Consequence Areas (defined as populated areas, drinking water sources, and unusually sensitive ecological areas).

PHMSA’s Response

On February 6, 2020, PHMSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Pipeline Safety: Valve Installation and Minimum Rupture Detection Standards,” claiming the NPRM responds to recommendations from the NTSB. It doesn’t. It requires automatic shutoff valves, remote-control valves, or equivalent technology to be installed only on newly constructed or entirely replaced onshore natural gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines that are larger than 6 inches in diameter.

Remember the daycare accident I mentioned? The pipeline that ruptured in that tragedy was only 1 inch in diameter. Existing gas transmission lines (like the PG&E line that ruptured in San Bruno), newly constructed or entirely replaced lines that are less than 6 inches in diameter, gas distribution systems, and offshore transmission lines are completely excluded from the NPRM’s requirements.

In other words, PHMSA’s solution won’t prevent another San Bruno disaster. Given that there are 2.6 million miles of gas pipelines in the United States, most of which date back to the 1950s and the NPRM doesn’t address any of them. With those numbers, another tragic accident is destined to occur, and if I’m the member on scene—or even if I’m not—I’ll remind PHMSA and industry, yet again, of all the ruptures we’ve investigated and all the opportunities they had to save lives.

To all those who lost loved ones in San Bruno or in another pipeline tragedy, you remain in our hearts. We are still fighting for you.

Florida: EPA Launches Investigation of Massive Methane Leak

Photo: Andrew Caplan / Gainesville Sun

August 21, 2020

By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News

EPA is investigating a massive release of methane over northern Florida in May to see whether it violated any requirements of the Clean Air Act, the agency confirmed yesterday.

EPA’s Region 4 office — which covers eight states and six tribes — said the release occurred northeast of Gainesville, which lies roughly 60 miles south of the Georgia border.

“Our preliminary findings indicate that the release may have occurred from maintenance operations at a natural gas compressor station located in Brooker (Bradford County), Florida,” Brandi Jenkins, director of Region 4’s Outreach and External Engagement Office, said in an emailed statement yesterday.

Jenkins said the agency is continuing to investigate the release’s cause.

Bloomberg first reported the EPA investigation.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — comes from natural gas and petroleum systems across the country, according to EPA figures for 2018.

EPA’s findings mirror those from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which said earlier this month the cloud of methane tracked by technology firm Bluefield Technologies Inc. came from an emergency shutdown of a natural gas compressor station on May 2 (Climatewire, Aug. 3).

Bluefield said in a statement last month that the “massive methane release” equaled about 300 metric tons of methane, which is described as the equivalent of over 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“On May 2, 2020, the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline performed an intentional emergency shutdown at its Brooker facility in Bradford County to repair the combustion turbine, which caused upstream natural gas (methane) to be vented to the atmosphere. Interstate pipelines are regulated at the federal level,” Alexandra Kuchta, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said in an email yesterday.

Earlier reporting from Bloomberg tied the facility to the Florida Gas Transmission pipeline, a joint venture between Kinder Morgan Inc. and Energy Transfer Partners LP.

Katherine Hill, a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, referred a request for comment to Energy Transfer, which operates the system.

Energy Transfer did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Judge Overturns Shutdown of $3B Pipeline Project

WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 6, 2017: Directional drilling machinery for a natural gas liquids pipeline is seen through a window of private residence in Exton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

August 26, 2020

By Mike Soraghan, E&E News

A judge has overruled Pennsylvania environmental regulators and allowed Energy Transfer LP to resume underground drilling for the Mariner East 2  pipeline in the location of a reported spill.

The company said the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had overreacted to the discharge of water at an existing seep location when it shut down construction at the site and was causing “significant economic losses.” State Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard Labuskes agreed and said Energy Transfer’s Sunoco Pipeline LP subsidiary could resume operations.

“Sunoco may restart drilling immediately,” he wrote, adding that his order could be reconsidered if there are new environmental problems. A hearing has been scheduled for Monday.

DEP had shut down the operation on Thursday, after a spill was reported in West Whiteland Township in the Philadelphia suburbs. Energy Transfer filed a challenge Sunday.

In addition to economic losses, the company also warned that an extended shutdown could cause the borehole that’s been drilled to collapse.

The construction project had a spill in the same spot in October 2019. The company and state officials spent months negotiating a plan to resume drilling before work began again in July. On Aug. 8, a preexisting seep was found to be flowing.

Energy Transfer said it followed the requirements of the plan it had worked out with the state and said the project should not have been shut down. Yesterday, an Energy Transfer spokeswoman said the company “will continue to comply with our work plans approved by the DEP.”

Pipeline critics have alleged that an aquifer was damaged in the incident, which Energy Transfer has denied.

The 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline carries natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale region to a processing facility near Philadelphia. Energy Transfer is using a temporary pipe to move liquids while Mariner East 2 construction is completed.

The $3 billion project, which is being carried out by Sunoco, has been slowed by spills, sinkholes and a yearlong regulatory standoff linked to an explosion on an additional Energy Transfer pipeline in the state.

The project has drawn opposition from many in the path of the 20-inch pipe in the Philadelphia suburbs, who say the pipeline shouldn’t have been built so close to homes and schools. They say a rupture could cause a catastrophe in the densely populated area.

The spill in West Whiteland Township came to light around the same time as a spill that leaked about 8,000 gallons of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake, part of a local park (Energywire, Aug. 12). That spill caused several local legislators to call for Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to halt construction and revoke the pipeline’s permit.

Last week, Energy Transfer was fined $355,000 for previous spills into streams and wetlands in eight counties (Greenwire, Aug. 21).

The DEP permit issued to Energy Transfer is reportedly the subject of an FBI investigation, one of several probes linked to the project. Charges against an Energy Transfer security manager in an alleged “buy-a-badge” scheme were dismissed by a judge earlier this summer (Energywire, June 29).

US Coast Guard: ‘All four missing crewmen have been recovered’ after the pipeline explosion in Corpus Christi

UPDATE: Monday, August 24 – 2:45 p.m.


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The search for the four crew members that began Friday, August 24, has ended as the United States Coast Guard was able to locate the missing crew.

“Coast Guard and salvage crews recovered the bodies of the two remaining crew members Monday after recovering a portion of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd from the Corpus Christi Ship Channel in Corpus Christi, Texas,” the US Coast Guard stated in a news release Monday afternoon. 

The Coast Guard said all missing crew members have been found and the families have been notified. 

“We are devastated by the loss of four of our colleagues, each of whom has been a valuable part of the Orion team for many years,” Mark Stauffer, CEO for Orion Marine Group said. “Our heartfelt prayers and sympathy are extended to their families and friends, and we ask that everyone please respect their privacy as we all work to recover from this terrible incident.” 

According to the Coast Guard, pollution response and salvage operations of the dredging vessel are ongoing. The Captain of the Port has modified the safety zone in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to allow vessel traffic throughout the Inner Harbor with restrictions. 

For the most recent Marine Safety Information Bulletins regarding the safety zone restrictions visit the Coast Guard’s Homeport site.

Approximately 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel has been removed from the water, according to the Coast Guard. 

UPDATE: Sunday August 23 – 1:59 p.m.

The Port Corpus Christi announced its continued and ongoing recovery efforts with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Unified Incident Command Team for the dredging vessel. 

“The restricted portion of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel will reopen when it is absolutely safe to do so. As the only major refining center on the U.S. Gulf Coast that currently is not expected to be within the anticipated area of impact from Tropical Storms Marco and Laura, efforts are also focused on recovery operations and reopening the affected portion of the Ship Channel so these critical refining centers can resume normal operations,” stated Port of Corpus Christi officials. 

UPDATE: Saturday, August 22 – 9:35 p.m. 

The Coast Guard announced they have suspended its search Saturday for two missing crew members from the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd.

According to Coast Guard officials, the bodies of two of the missing crew members were recovered at approximately 2 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, but two crew members remained missing.

“Our Coast Guard crews worked intently alongside state and local partners to locate the two crew members who remained missing, but unfortunately, we were unable to locate them,” said Capt. Edward Gaynor, commander, Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi. 

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy and a lot of factors are considered before suspending a search. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the missing crew members during this difficult time,” said Capt. Gaynor. 

Involved in the search were:

  • Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi
  • Coast Guard Station Port Aransas
  • Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Corpus Christi
  • Coast Guard Cutter Chinook
  • Coast Guard Cutter Manta
  • Coast Guard Cutter Sturgeon
  • Port Police Department Marine Units
  • Harbormaster’s Office
  • Security Command Center

UPDATE: Saturday, August 22 – 11:30 a.m.

Coast Guard representative, Corpus Christi Port Authority representative, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representative, Orion representative, and Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales held a press conference regarding the search and response efforts of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd fire on Saturday, August 22 at 3 p.m.

At 8:12 a.m. Friday, Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi watchstanders received reports from witnesses describing a fire in the Port of Corpus Christi. A Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued two injured crew members and four remained missing. The fire onboard the dredging vessel was extinguished at approximately 10 p.m. Friday after the vessel broke apart and sunk.

The United States Coast Guard has confirmed that the bodies of two missing crew members from the Waymon L. Boyd vessel were recovered Saturday morning. 

Officials say the bodies of the crew members were recovered at approximately 2 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on August 22. 

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, two crew members remain missing and they are continuing the search in the Corpus Christi Bay waters. 

“A Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and a Station Port Aransas 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boat crew are currently on scene searching. The Port Police Department Marine Unit is also on scene assisting,” said officials. 

Authorities say the fire onboard the dredging vessel, Waymon L. Boyd, was extinguished at approximately 10 p.m. Friday night, after the large vessel broke apart and sunk.

“Approximately, 6,000 feet of absorbent boom has been placed around the vessel. Another 4,000 feet of absorbent boom is available if needed. Air quality testing by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is ongoing,” stated officials. 

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Corpus Christi closed the Inner Harbor from the Chemical Turning Basin to the Viola Turning Basin, officials say. 

Coast Guard representative, Corpus Christi Port Authority representative, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality representative, Orion representative, and Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales are scheduled to hold a press conference regarding the search and response efforts of the dredging vessel Waymon L Boyd fire on Saturday, August 22 at 3 p.m.

“We greatly appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and other responders in their efforts to recover our missing crewmen,” said Mark Stauffer, CEO, Orion Marine Group. “Our focus is on supporting our employees and their families during this difficult time and our thoughts and prayers are with them and all the first responders. We continue to work alongside the U.S. Coast Guard, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority, TCEQ, and the other agencies to assist in the recovery of our personnel and the wider investigation into this incident.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the impacted crewmen and their families,” said Sean Strawbridge, CEO, Port of Corpus Christi. 

2 Dead and 2 Missing After Pipeline Explosion in Corpus Christi

August 22, 2020

By Christina Morales, New York Times

A submerged pipeline that exploded and a fire on board a dredging vessel on Friday left two crew members dead and two others missing in Corpus Christi, Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The bodies of two crew members from the vessel — named the Waymon L. Boyd from the Orion Marine Group — were recovered on Saturday morning.

Those killed were not publicly identified. Six people were hospitalized, with some being treated for burns, the authorities said.

Hours after a news conference on Saturday where officials pledged to keep looking for the two missing crew members, the Coast Guard announced that the search had been suspended.

Edward Gaynor, the captain of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi, said searchers tried with state and local authorities to find those missing but the effort was unsuccessful.

“The decision to suspend a search is never easy and a lot of factors are considered before suspending a search,” he said in a statement on Saturday night. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of the missing crew members during this difficult time.”

Officials were notified about a fire at the Port of Corpus Christi around 8 a.m. on Friday. Lt. Marina Lawrence of the Coast Guard said that although it was clear that a submerged pipeline exploded and that the fire and the pipeline explosion were related, the cause remained unclear and was under investigation.

Agencies offered conflicting accounts, however, about the explosion.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said on Friday that a barge struck a propane pipeline. The Port of Corpus Christi said it was a natural gas pipeline, the television station KSAT reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the explosion, Sean Strawbridge, the chief executive of the Port of Corpus Christi, said on Saturday afternoon.

U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on LNG Exports

GAO Report on Natural Gas Exports: Updated Guidance and Regulations Could Improve Facility Permitting Processes

In 2019, about 39% of U.S. natural gas exports went through export facilities—in which the gas is liquefied and loaded onto ships for transport. Multiple federal agencies regulate export facility design. Federal guidance says that agencies should review regulations every 3-5 years and, if needed, adopt current technical standards for safety and environmental protection.

But some regulations haven’t been updated. For example, one agency requires export facilities to comply with a 1994 fire extinguisher standard that includes some obsolete extinguisher types. We recommended that agencies establish a process to regularly update regulations.

What GAO Found

Federal agencies have incorporated most but not all key collaboration practices in the permitting processes for export facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG). GAO has identified seven key practices that can help sustain collaboration among federal agencies, including reviewing and updating written guidance and agreements. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard), which jointly lead the permitting process for LNG export facilities in federal waters, have incorporated all seven key practices. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which leads the permitting process for LNG export facilities located on land or in state waters (facilities in both places are referred to as onshore facilities), has incorporated six of the key practices. However, FERC does not regularly review and update its interagency agreements, which outline agencies’ roles and responsibilities in the onshore permitting process, because it does not have a process to do so. Establishing a process to regularly review and update FERC’s agreements with other agencies would help FERC ensure that, in the near term, other agencies clearly understand and consistently implement the permitting process and, for the longer term, the agreements address policy changes that may affect the process.

FERC’s, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA), and the Coast Guard’s regulations for permitting LNG export facilities do not incorporate all current technical standards. For example, FERC’s regulations cite an outdated 1984 earthquake standard, PHMSA’s regulations cite outdated fire safety standards from 2001, and the Coast Guard’s regulations cite an outdated 1994 standard for fire extinguishers. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget states that agencies should conduct a standards-specific review of regulations that cite technical standards every 3 to 5 years and update the regulations with updated standards, if necessary. However, FERC, PHMSA, and the Coast Guard have not recently conducted such a review and FERC and PHMSA do not have processes in place to regularly do so. The Coast Guard has a process for conducting such reviews but it does not specify how frequently the reviews should occur. Without processes to conduct a standards-specific review of regulations every 3 to 5 years, the agencies cannot be assured that the regulations remain effective at ensuring safety.

See the full GAO report in our Library of Technical Reports & Research Papers.

Hundreds clean up site of deadly Baltimore explosion as neighbors raise funds for families in need

August 16, 2020


Hundreds of Baltimore City residents, neighbors across the county line and others gathered Sunday afternoon to stage a cleanup effort and sidewalk sale to support survivors of last Monday’s gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore that killed two and injured seven.

Dozens of volunteers in neon green vests spread out on the lawns of boarded-up homes along Labyrinth Road and the alley behind the leveled homes, as they shoveled dirt and packed leftover debris into black trash bags.

A Baltimore Police Department cruiser blocked off that part of Reisterstown Station, as a Red Cross vehicle made its way up and down the narrow road, passing out water and snacks. Crew members continued to remove debris from the explosion site, with metal fencing surrounding the grounds of the leveled homes.

Nancy Diaz, a California resident, was in Baltimore for a few weeks to tend to a family situation when the explosion occurred. The 62-year-old decided to lend a hand.

“I was born to serve,” said Diaz, who used to work for the Red Cross and assisted in relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. “This has been what I love to do. I just want to be hands of love and light, and that’s what my spirit is.”

Just a few houses from the explosion, Stephanie Hall stood on her front porch with her sister, Vera Skinner, as two volunteers searched her shrub for debris. Hall, a 17-year resident, had been sleeping when the blast went off just before 10 a.m.

She said she thought it was a “really bad crash,” before going outside to see the severity of the situation. Almost a week after the explosion, Hall was still taken aback by how many homes were affected.

The nonprofit Hadassah of Greater Baltimore on Sunday held a sidewalk sale in Pikesville on Reisterstown Road, with a portion of the proceeds set to go to survivors of the explosion.

Customers sorted through racks of inexpensive clothing, bags and jewelry outside the organization’s resale store, which remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barbara Fink, co-president of the organization, said the store used to be located on Falstaff Road, just blocks from the explosion site, and called the neighborhood “a great part of the community.”

“We knew we had to do something. … The way [the sale] is going, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again,” Fink said.

The two events were a continuation of ways the community has banded together in the aftermath of the explosion. Lonnie Herriott, 61, and Joseph Graham, 20, were the two people found dead after the blast. Family and friends gathered Saturday for a candlelight vigil to remember Graham, a Morgan State University student. Organizers with CASA are planning another vigil Monday night.

The cause of the blast is undetermined and continues to be investigated.

The gas explosion that killed two people in Northwest Baltimore was caught on a camera footage on Labyrinth Road. (Video courtesy of Dominique Bass)
Sitting in a parked Baltimore City Fire Department utility terrain vehicle, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said he thought to organize the cleanup effort after surveying the debris.

Schleifer, who represents District 5, said several elderly residents live on Labyrinth Road, and he wanted to relieve them of additional work after the traumatic blast. What started as 50 volunteers with Suburban Orthodox Synagogue grew to around 400 people joining in on the effort, Schleifer said.

“Hopefully, we can start rebuilding and try to get back to normal as much as possible. … Where people see the rubble and destruction, I see building blocks,” he said.

Death Toll Rises to 2 People from Baltimore Gas Explosion

Photo: Julio Cortez/Associated Press

August 11, 2020


BALTIMORE (AP) — Two people are now confirmed dead following a natural gas explosion that destroyed three row houses in Baltimore and sent seven people to the hospital, authorities said Tuesday.

A man was pulled from the debris shortly before 1 a.m. Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams said at a morning news conference.

Family members identified him as Joseph Graham, 20, a student at Morgan State University who had attended a party at one of the row homes that was destroyed.

Sunshine Evans told WMAR-TV that Graham, her nephew, was in the home with two other of her family members when the structure collapsed. They were rushed to the hospital, she said.

Isaac Graham, an uncle of Joseph Graham, had told The Baltimore Sun on Monday that his nephew attended a party with one of his best friends and decided to spend the night. He said his nephew was a “good kid” who was studying at Morgan State and recently launched his own clothing line.

Ty’lor Schnella, a friend of Graham’s, told the newspaper that he “was always the one that kept everyone uplifted, kept your spirits high.”

Friends were in disbelief over his death.

“Everyone was like, ‘Not Joseph.’ I would never think something like this could happen to him,” Schnella said.

Morgan State said in a statement that Graham was a rising sophomore pursuing an electrical engineering degree. The university said it mourns “the tragic loss of life as a result of this calamitous event and offer our deepest sympathies to the Graham family.”

Meanwhile, authorities have not identified a woman who was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after Monday morning’s explosion. Seven others were hospitalized, five in critical condition, said Adams, the fire department spokeswoman. The conditions of the other two were still being determined, she said.

More than 200 people in the neighborhood were affected by the blast, and about 30 have utilized temporary shelter since the explosion, she said.

The natural gas explosion leveled three row houses and ripped open a fourth, trapping people in the debris and scattering shards of glass and other rubble over the northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Reisterstown Station. Dozens of firefighters converged on the scene to free the injured.

“It’s a disaster. It’s a mess. It’s unbelievable,” said Diane Glover, who lives across the street. Her windows where shattered and her front door was blown open.

The exact cause remains unknown, and the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. appealed for patience as they investigate. No gas odors were reported before the explosion, and BGE did not receive any recent gas odor calls from the block of homes that were damaged, the utility said in a statement late Monday.

BGE also said it last inspected the area’s gas mains and services in June and July of 2019 and no leaks were found.

BGE said in a statement on Tuesday that it was providing information to the Baltimore Fire Department and other investigators regarding “the flows of gas and electricity on customer-owned equipment.”

The Baltimore Sun reported last year that dangerous gas leaks have become much more frequent, with nearly two dozen discovered each day on average, according to the utility’s reports to federal authorities. BGE has said it has thousands of miles of obsolete pipes that need to be replaced, an effort that would cost nearly $1 billion and take two decades, the newspaper said.

BGE asked the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve a new gas system infrastructure and a cost recovery mechanism in late 2017 to pay for upgrades.

“Founded in 1816, BGE is the oldest gas distribution company in the nation. Like many older gas systems, a larger portion of its gas main and services infrastructure consists of cast iron and bare steel – materials that are obsolete and susceptible to failure with age,” the PSC wrote in a 2018 order approving a modernization plan.

This area’s gas infrastructure was installed in the early 1960s. When aging pipes fail, they tend to make headlines. Last year, a gas explosion ripped the façade off a Maryland office complex in Columbia, affecting more than 20 businesses. No one was injured in the explosion early on a Sunday morning. In 2016, a gas main break forced the evacuation of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse. Under Armour Inc. had to evacuate its Baltimore office after a gas main break in 2012.


This story has been corrected to show that Joseph Graham was a rising sophomore at Morgan State University, not a rising junior.


Associated Press contributors include Mike Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Brian Witte in Annapolis, and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia.

A gas explosion destroyed part of a Baltimore neighborhood. Here are ways to avoid or safely deal with gas leaks

August 10, 2020


At least one woman is dead and several other people are seriously injured after a gas explosion Monday morning that decimated three homes near the Reisterstown Road Plaza shopping center in Northwest Baltimore.

While the cause of the explosion still isn’t clear, homeowners should be mindful of the potential for gas explosions, and what to do in the case of a gas leak, experts say.

What should you do if you smell gas?

If you smell the “rotten eggs” odor characteristic of a gas leak, Baltimore Gas and Electric recommends you leave the area immediately, before contacting its emergency gas service line (877-778-7798). You may also hear the hissing of natural gas escaping, or see fire coming from the ground, dirt being blown into the air or dead vegetation in a green area.

You should avoid turning anything on before escaping to a safe area — not even a light switch, flashlight, car, garage door or cell phone — BGE’s website says, and you should not light a match. Homes that don’t use gas can still experience gas leaks from outdoors, BGE’s website states.

How do gas explosions occur?

Explosions occur when natural gas is released into a home and catches fire. That’s why BGE recommends that customers don’t turn on anything before leaving their home if they smell gas. Doing so could create a spark, causing the gas to ignite.

“Not always do you have as violent of an explosion that I saw on the news with Baltimore. Sometimes you just get a ‘whoosh’,” said Ron Hopkins, president of the National Association of Fire Investigators. “You’ll have a small flash fire, but you’re not going to have enough power to have a very large explosion.”

Older pipes are more prone to leaks, experts say, but leaks can also occur if someone digs into a line, so Marylanders should call 811 at least two business days before digging to ensure service lines are properly marked.

“With underground lines, if they’re not damaged by somebody failing to call before you dig … we do have corroding or weakening of old systems,” Hopkins said. “It’s a matter of time.”

Reporting from The Sun last year revealed that BGE likely needs to replace thousands of miles worth of outdated pipelines.

How can you prevent leaks?

Homeowners should always hire qualified professionals to install gas appliances and should never attempt to do so themselves, according to Columbia Gas of Maryland’s website.

“I am a believer of that,” Hopkins said. “I’ve got some propane in the house, and I had to move my grill. I had a plumber come out just to make sure.”

Homeowners should also contact a professional if they notice any changes with their appliances, like no heat or overheating from their furnace/boiler, a yellow flame or the presence of soot around a burner on their gas stove, or their furnace or hot water heater fan often kicking on and off, the Columbia Gas website said.

Homeowners should also schedule regular inspections for their gas appliances and piping, according to Columbia Gas.

“It’s important to have your natural gas appliance connectors checked by a qualified professional. Some older uncoated brass flexible connectors are more susceptible to failure, which could lead to a gas leak if not replaced,” the website read.

Homeowners should also avoid storing natural gas or heat-producing appliances in the same room as flammable materials, like gasoline, spray paints, solvents, insecticides, varnish, cleaning products and other pressurized containers. They should also avoid storing combustible materials nearby, including rags, mops and paper.

“If you’re stacking things too close and blocking the air intake, or if you’re stacking things up, and you have something fall over, it may knock a pipe loose,” Hopkins said. “It’s all about housekeeping.”

Phillips 66 Plans to Shut Facilities, Pipelines Amid Renewables Shift

August 12, 2020

By Reuters via Pipeline & Gas Journal

U.S. refiner Phillips 66 plans to shut down its carbon plant in Rodeo and Santa Maria refining facility in Arroyo Grande near San Francisco in 2023. The crude oil pipelines that supply those facilities will be taken out of service in phases starting that year. 

The company also plans to convert its Rodeo, California, crude oil refinery into a renewable fuels plant using cooking oil and food wastes. 

Its proposal comes as U.S. refiners HollyFrontier Corp, CVR Energy and Marathon Petroleum have begun or pledged to convert existing facilities to renewable fuel. HollyFrontier and CVR are exploring projects to supply California, the largest U.S. market for the fuel.

The state’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) aims to cut carbon emissions and reduce petroleum in transportation fuels.

Phillips 66’s proposal would cost up to $800 million to produce 680 million gallons a year of renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and sustainable jet fuel beginning in 2024. The company’s existing renewable diesel project at the Rodeo site, near Santa Barbara, is targeting 120 million gallons by mid-2021.

Refiners see renewable diesel as helping underutilized refineries stay in operation and to offset compliance costs associated with U.S. blending laws. 

Earlier this year, Phillips 66 canceled a 250 million gallon per year renewable diesel plant proposed for Ferndale, Washington, citing uncertainties and permitting delays.

At the time, it said was evaluating “new opportunities to provide consumers with renewable fuels that comply with low-carbon fuel standards.”

Exxon Mobil on Tuesday struck an agreement with Global Clean Energy to buy 2.5 million barrels of renewable diesel per year for five years to help reduce its carbon footprint.

Total U.S. consumption of renewable diesel last year was 900 million gallons, according to Energy Information Administration data.

Court Reverses Order to Shut Down Dakota Access Pipeline

Photo: Amy Sisk/Inside Energy

August 5, 2020

By James MacPherson, Associated Press

Bismarck, N.D. — A federal appeals court on Wednesday reversed a judge’s order that shut down the Dakota Access pipeline pending a full environmental review.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with pipeline owner Energy Transfer to keep the oil flowing, saying a lower-court judge “did not make the findings necessary for injunctive relief.”

But the appellate court declined to grant Energy Transfer’s motion to block the review, saying the company had “failed to make a strong showing of likely success.”

On July 6, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered the pipeline closed within 30 days while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fulfills his demand to conduct a more extensive environmental review than the one that allowed the pipeline to start moving oil near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation three years ago. This process could take more than a year.

Boasberg cited the “potential harm” that the pipeline could cause before the Corps finishes its survey. He rejected the company’s request to halt the order, sending the case to the three-judge appeals panel. The appellate court paused Boasberg’s order in mid-July to give it time to consider the case.

In arguing against the closure, Energy Transfer said the line couldn’t be shut off by the judge’s Aug. 5 deadline. The company said it would take three months to empty the pipe of oil and perform the time-consuming and expensive steps to keep the line from corroding without the flow of oil.

Energy Transfer estimated it would cost $24 million to empty the oil and take steps to preserve the pipe. The company said it would have to spend another $67.5 million each year to maintain the line while it’s inoperable.

The pipeline holds about 5 million barrels of oil when full.

It was the subject of months of protests in 2016 and 2017, sometimes violent, during its construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. The tribe took legal action against the pipeline even after it began carrying oil from North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.

The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile (1,886-kilometer) pipeline crosses beneath the Missouri River, just north of the reservation. The tribe draws its water from the river and has concerns about pollution. The company maintains the line is safe.

Permits for the project were originally rejected by the Obama administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers prepared to conduct a full environmental review. In February 2017, after President Donald Trump took office, the Corps scrapped the review and granted permits, concluding that running the pipeline under the Missouri River posed no significant environmental issues.

The Corps said that opinion was validated after an additional year of review, as ordered by Boasberg, an Obama appointee, in 2017.

Boasberg ruled then that the Corps had “largely complied” with environmental law when permitting the pipeline but ordered more review because he said the agency did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux’s fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.