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Salem Township Experiences Fire as a Result of a Natural Gas Explosion

Natural gas is the source of heat for millions of people across the US. It’s fed to homes and businesses through underground pipes that crisscross the countryside, and underneath towns and cities. Most people don’t give that network of pipes a second thought, but residents of Salem Township in Pennsylvania are being forced to confront the specter that those pipes might not be as secure as they thought after a natural gas explosion in the area sparked a massive fire.

What Happened?

It was April 29, 2016 when the explosion occurred. Around 8:30 AM, a 30-inch pipeline owned and operated by Texas Eastern (part of Spectra Energy) exploded, causing flames to shoot upward higher than treetops nearby. The immediate upshot of the explosion was a large swathe of scorched land, a demolished home, and one person burned severely and taken to an area hospital. Nearby utilities were also damaged.

In a report for WTAE Action 4 News, Fire Chief Bob Rosatti said, “It looked like you were looking down into hell. As far across my windshield as I could see was just a massive fireball.”

The victim taken to the hospital for treatment of his burns reportedly heard the explosion and saw the light, and tried to flee down the road. The heat of the fire was so intense that he was burning as he ran. The man was rescued by a passerby.

Chief Rosatti does not know the cause of the fire as yet. There was no maintenance occurring on the pipeline at the time of the explosion. “What caused that? That’s the biggest question. Everybody wants to know why. We have a lot of gas pipelines that run through Salem Township and a lot of the communities in western PA have gas lines running underneath them, and this is a major concern for anybody,” he stated.

Other residents reported seeing the blast even from up to five miles away, and feeling the heat of the fire. One driver pulled into a gas station about a quarter-mile from the explosion. The heat was so intense that she could not open the windows, and it was evaporating the water on the pavement left from recent rains.

An investigation into the explosion is being conducted by the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Because the gas lines cross more than one state, the matter has been deemed a federal concern, rather than a state or local problem.

While the investigation is still ongoing, there are many potential causes for the explosion. No maintenance was being performed, so worker negligence can be ruled out. However, there may be a case for faulty equipment, inferior pipe quality, deterioration and a lack of maintenance from Texas Eastern in maintaining the pipeline and more. There’s also the possibility that the internal pressure within the pipe was too great, or there was something wrong with the composition of the gas flow. Rust and moisture within the pipe can also contribute to failure over time. Finally, there is also the chance that a subsidence in the soil around the pipeline somehow led to the explosion.

Whatever the case may be, Texas Eastern and its parent company Spectra Energy are under a great deal of scrutiny. The fact that these pipelines weave their way under so many towns and cities throughout Pennsylvania and other states means that a similar explosion in a more developed area could have catastrophic results, causing dozens, even hundreds of injuries and even fatalities, not to mention damage to property.