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Tests, fixes to pipeline in Salem explosion could cost $100 million

Debra Erdley
| Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Charred trees surround a chimney that remains after a home was destroyed as a result of natural gas pipeline explosion in Salem Township near the intersection of Route 819 and Route 22 on Friday, April 29, 2016.  The occupant was injured.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Charred trees surround a chimney that remains after a home was destroyed as a result of natural gas pipeline explosion in Salem Township near the intersection of Route 819 and Route 22 on Friday, April 29, 2016. The occupant was injured.
The shell is all that remains Tuesday, June 14, 2016, of a Salem house burned in a natural gas pipeline explosion in April.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
The shell is all that remains Tuesday, June 14, 2016, of a Salem house burned in a natural gas pipeline explosion in April.
Mark Johnston hangs his head for a moment on Saturday, April 30, 2016. His home was damaged by heat from a gas pipeline explosion in Salem, Westmoreland County, the day before.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Mark Johnston hangs his head for a moment on Saturday, April 30, 2016. His home was damaged by heat from a gas pipeline explosion in Salem, Westmoreland County, the day before.

Tests and repairs to a cross-state natural gas line involved in a massive explosion earlier this year in Salem could reach as much as $100 million, according to the Houston-based company operating the Texas Eastern Pipeline.

A spokesman for Spectra Energy Corp., the company operating the interstate transmission pipeline, told shareholders last week the cost of assessing and making repairs to sections of its pipelines between Delmont and Lambertville, N.J., is expected to be $75 million to $100 million.

The publicly traded corporation disclosed in second-quarter financial statements that it has spent $16 million on repairs and testing since a 30-inch line ruptured in April, sending a fireball hundreds of feet into the air, scorching about 40 acres of farmland and severely burning a Salem man whose home was destroyed.

Investigators initially focused on the explosion site and a 15-mile section of pipeline from Delmont to the Conemaugh River.

Spectra's costs began mounting last month after federal inspectors discovered corrosion similar to that on the ruptured line on a parallel pipeline. Spectra was ordered to verify the integrity of its three other transmission lines to the New Jersey state line, a distance of more than 250 miles.

The 30-inch, 24-inch and 36-inch lines that share the right-of-way with the ruptured pipeline comprise a major segment of the U.S. energy infrastructure serving the Northeast.

Although officials have not determined the cause of the April 29 explosion, federal officials said preliminary tests suggest tape coating covering weld joints on the pipeline, installed in 1981, failed and may have contributed to corrosion.

Spectra spokesman Creighton Welch said Spectra, which is investigating the blast along with government officials and third-party contractors, had begun implementing much of the work federal inspectors ordered before the decision was announced July 19.

The company hopes to complete the work by Nov. 1 in time for the fall heating season, he said.

Construction records and previous tests on the cross-state transmission lines are being reviewed by the company. Its workers are excavating sections of pipeline to assess their condition, reviewing weld joints and conducting a variety of tests including running devices through the lines to check for internal issues.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer.She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com

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