Spectra Energy looking into weld coating in Salem pipeline blast
Spectra Energy is reviewing the coating on welds throughout the length of an interstate pipeline installed in 1981 following a preliminary investigation that suggested tape coating was a factor in the massive explosion that rocked Salem Township two weeks ago, company representatives said Wednesday.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people at a Salem church, Spectra Energy Corp. Vice President of Operations Tom Wooden said that while findings are only preliminary, the company has evaluated “the entire length of this pipeline where we have that type of coating,” and has shut down sections where there are questions about the integrity of the coating. Wooden said welds where sections of pipeline are joined together are coated in the field as construction proceeds.
“This coating type was used by us only for a very short period of time. It's called tape coat,” he said, adding that the material was not used on the other three pipelines that share the right of way with the ruptured line.
“The investigation is still ongoing, but clearly we see this as one of the contributing causes. There may be other causes as well,” Wooden told the crowd.
The April 29 blast sent a fireball soaring high into the air and seared about 40 acres of farmland, left one man severely burned, destroyed a house and damaged several others. It also damaged a portion of Route 819.
The road, used by about 3,200 vehicles a day, remains closed while the pipeline is repaired.
The right of way first was used in the 1950s. In addition to the pipeline that exploded, it includes three other transmission lines that run parallel: a 24-inch line, first installed in 1954; a 30-inch line installed in 1968; and a 36-inch line installed in 1994. All four pipelines are part of a massive interstate gas pipeline transmission system considered an integral part of the nation's energy infrastructure.
Wooden conceded that the company in 2014 increased the volume of gas flowing through the four lines, but said the investigation the company is conducting with third-party experts and investigators from the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, suggested external problems with the weld coating, rather than an internal erosion from pressure, triggered the massive pipeline failure.
While many of those who crowded into the basement of Congruity Presbyterian Church said they came out of curiosity, eager to hear what the pipeline company had to say, others had very specific concerns.
Ken McClain, 52, who has lived on Boggs Hollow Road near the pipeline his entire life, questioned the company about the cause of the accident and pressed for other locations where the coating had been used.
McClain said he's always been aware something very powerful was moving under the earth near his home.
“You can feel the gas pumping through the lines when you stand on (the right of way),” he said.
Others were concerned about possible long-term health impacts from the blast.
Tracy Marschik, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the explosion site, said she worries about her husband and daughter, who stayed with the house to keep it watered down to minimize the impact of the intense heat.
“Things are going to keep showing up for six months, a year from now. Once you're gone, we're going to be living with that,” she said.
Company officials insisted they are committed to working with those who were affected by the blast.
“This incident and the impact it has had on this community is completely unacceptable to us. We want to understand the cause so it never happens again,” said Andy Drake, vice president of operations and environmental health and safety for the company.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed.