A gas pipeline owned by a Houston, Texas-based petroleum corporation exploded Monday morning in Brooke County, W. Va., just across the Ohio River from Steubenville, Ohio, and about an hour from Pittsburgh, Penn. The pipeline explosion and subsequent fuel leak was the fourth major pipeline disaster to occur in the U.S. this month.
Enterprise Products Partners, which owns the pipeline involved in Monday’s explosion, said it is investigating the incident. There were no reports of injuries, but witnesses reported a massive fireball that shot hundreds of feet in the air, damaging a nearby house and power lines.
Reports so far don’t indicate how much ethane was released from the pipeline or the extent of environmental damage that occurred. Ethane, a chemical compound that is a byproduct of petroleum refining, is a colorless and odorless gas that is highly combustible when mixed with air.
On Jan. 14, a natural gas pipeline owned by GulfSouth exploded near Jackson, Miss., decimating the surrounding forest and creating a plume of smoke big enough to register on National Weather Service radar.
Three days later, a pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC exploded near Glendive, Mont., spilling 50,000 gallons / 1,200 barrels of crude oil into the pristine Yellowstone River, leaving thousands of Montana residents without drinkable tap water for days and posing a deadly threat to area wildlife.
On Jan. 22, North Dakota authorities learned that a ruptured pipeline operated by Summit Midstream Partners LLC leaked 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste, creating the largest incident of environmental contamination since the beginning of North Dakota’s oil boom.
The recent pipeline disasters came just after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill approving Keystone XL’s construction, and the Senate passed an identical bill today. President Obama has pledged to veto any Keystone XL bill that passes, a nod to environmental scientists who warn that a spill of tar sands bitumen would be devastatingly toxic and extremely difficult to clean up.