A contractor drilling cable lines damaged a gas pipe, triggering an explosion in downtown Canton, Illinois, two years ago that killed one man and injured nearly a dozen others, federal investigators determined.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the Nov. 16, 2016, gas explosion pinned blame on Sure Shot Communications of Brimfield, Illinois, but also found the utility company Ameren failed to adequately evacuate the affected area once the breach was discovered.
According to the Peoria Journal Star, Sure Shot violated a state law when it failed to excavate a concrete sidewalk atop the gas line before drilling. Illinois law requires that drilling be visually inspected while it’s in progress. However, the crew leader, who was in his first day of field work for the company, told NTSB investigators that the Sure Shot owner instructed him not to remove the concrete slab to avoid having to replace it.
According to the NTSB, the contractor used a technique called directional drilling or directional boring that sets underground lines without having to dig trenches.
The NTSB said that the drill nicked a one-inch plastic gas line connected to a two-inch gas main at about 4 p.m. Ameren did not turn off the gas until 5:37, more than half an hour after customers first started reporting the gas odors to the company and were told to leave their buildings.
The NTSB report says that the contractor reported the problem to the Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators, a not-for-profit organization. However, neither Sure Shot nor Ameren reported the breached gas line to 911 as state law mandates.
The gas explosion occurred at 5:44, blowing up the Opera House Professional Center annex and damaging about 50 buildings. Ameren worker Arturo Silva Jr. was killed in the blast. Eleven others were injured, including two other Ameren workers who had responded to the scene.
Investigators also found that Sure Shot and Mid Century Communications, the company that hired Sure Shot to drill the fiber-optic cable lines, did not have a written contract for the work. Additionally, Sure Shot did not have a written project plan, nor did it have an emergency response plan, according to the Journal Star.
Canton Mayor Kent McDowell told the Journal Star he was “shocked by the lack of training the people had there … That’s the first thing that jumped out at me right away.”
In July, a similar disaster occurred in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, when a contractor hired by a Bear Communications hit a gas line while drilling fiber-optic cable lines. The breach caused an explosion that killed one person and injured several others while leveling an entire city block.