Preparing For A Natural Gas Pipeline Disaster

Mar 25, 2015

A contingency of first responders spent the afternoon (Wednesday) in downtown cottage grove running through scenarios for dealing with a natural gas pipeline emergency.

Williams Pipeline operates close to 4,000 miles of transmission pipeline through the Pacific Northwest. From the Columbia Gorge, pipes follow along Interstate-5, carrying compressed natural gas. They run through communities. Sometimes, lines cross railroad tracks.

Emergency First Responders watch a video of a mocked natural gas pipeline explosion on a train track.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

George Angerbauer is western public outreach officer for Williams Pipeline. He’s quick to point out piping natural gas is the safest form of energy transportation. Still, it’s the company’s practice to hold these emergency preparedness events so anyone showing up in a crisis is on the same page.

Some of the emergency responses might seem counter-intuitive says Angerbauer.

Angerbauer: “No, you don’t fight a natural gas fire. You understand that we block it off from either side. It needs to burn out. It is very severe because we’re talking about a high pressure, large diameter pipeline. That’s why we have those block valves.”

George Angerbauer is Public Outreach for Williams Pipeline.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

One tabletop exercise with emergency personnel involved a mock disaster with a train. A call was made to the gas control center in Salt Lake City.

Dispatch:” ok do you know how many miles of pipe it is approximately?”

Worker: “Approximately 20 miles. Ten inch pipe.”

Dispatch: “All right, once you get those two block valves shut it’ll take about 37 minutes to blow that segment down.”

The controller on dispatch meant it’s gonna take thirty seven minutes before the fire burns out on its own. During that time, emergency responders would be controlling the perimeter and protecting lives and property. *Not spraying water on the gas fire.

Besides the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue and Eugene’s Hazardous Materials Team were part of the training exercise. Lane County Emergency Manager Linda Cooke says the more they all know, the better they’ll respond.

Linda Cooke is Lane County Emergency Manager.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

Cooke: “The goal is make sure that everybody knows each other before there’s an emergency so that we’re not exchanging business cards on scene.”

Angerbauer says there have been no major incidents with underground pipelines along the I-5 corridor. Williams Pipeline claims an “above average” industry safety record.