Gas pipeline rupture still under investigation

Published 4:54 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
UNION – It is not known how long the investigation will take in the aftermath of the Dec. 19 pipeline rupture that killed a Vandalia man who was working on an electrical line for Midwest Energy Cooperative of Cassopolis.
"It was an unfortunate incident. We hate to see a loss of life. It was a tragic incident and that's why we have to be thorough about it," stated Richard Wheatley, manager of Media Relations at the El Paso, Texas, ANR Pipeline corporation on Sunday.
ANR in El Paso is the parent company of the pipeline that ruptured after being hit by a trencher operator who was putting in an electrical line to a new pole barn and home site. The release of high-pressure gas killed Danny Young, 27, of Vandalia, an apprentice worker with Midwest Energy. The rupture excavated a 60-foot crater and shook windows for miles around, authorities said. The crater was about 12-feet deep.
Last Thursday, the trencher was recovered from the crater where Young had been working, according to Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood Jr. Young had been working as part of a three-person crew. The other two co-workers escaped injury.
The investigation will take some time as ANR is cooperating with regulatory commissions such as the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Michigan Public Service Commission, Wheatly said. This is being done out of the Houston pipeline office.
Wheatley said the natural gas line that runs through Cass County where the blast occurred in the southeast corner of Tharp Lake Road and U.S. 12 runs from Bridgman to LaGrange, Ind., and into Defiance, Ohio. It's called a tie line. There are two pipelines that run parallel to each other, a 22-inch line and a 24-inch line.
It was the 24-inch line that ruptured, Wheatley said. He said shut-off valves were engaged at the time of the incident, and pressure was released that resulted in a great deal of noise. However, there were no disruptions to service, he said. The 24-inch line was laid in 1969 with the 22-inch line laid earlier.
There are 55,500 miles of pipeline with ANR being the largest interstate and national system in North America. Wheatley said in 2002 and 2003, the company began an inspection program on all pipelines across the country that are 16-inches in diameter or greater.
They use an "intelligent pig" to run through the lines. This instrument checks for impurities in the line such as any water buildup, sand or encroachments. They also do aerial right-of-way inspections once a month by flying the whole pipeline. They check for brush, portable buildings, fences or trees. The "intelligent pig" system will be used all across the U.S. through 2012 at a cost of $750 million, he said.
Wheatley said the pipelines 16-inches or greater are in the process of being inspected in Michigan with the project being 70 percent completed across the state.
"There is no set time," he said of the investigation. "We have to look at what may have occurred. We continue until it's concluded. The report goes to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It will make [the report] public."
Underwood said the sheriff's department is continuing to provide security at the scene at night. ANR is providing security during the day while its investigation of the mishap is continuing.
Donations to help out Young's wife and family are set up at 1st Source Banks located at 135 S. Front St., Dowagiac; 720 S. 11th St., Niles; and 127 E. Main St., Niles. Checks can be made out to the Danny Young Memorial Fund.