CREDIT: Screenshot via Tri-City Herald and Bob Brawdy
A liquefied natural gas pipeline plant suffered an explosion and fire at 8:20 a.m. PDT in Plymouth, Washington Monday morning. The AP reports that five people were injured. Williams Northwest Pipeline spokesperson Michele Swaner said one employee was injured from burns, but that he would recover.
The cause is still uncertain, but fire officials said that it began with an explosion in a building, and then a natural gas pipeline ruptured, which sent shrapnel into a “huge” storage tank, leading to a risk of a much larger explosion. People living three to six miles away from the plant said they could feel the first explosion, according to the local NBC and CBS affiliates.
Cindi Stefani, living a mile away from the plant, told the AP that she heard “a very loud boom.”
“I looked across the river and saw a giant mushroom cloud and flames at least a couple hundred feet high.”
These tanks are built with a double wall to insulate the liquefied gas, which must be kept at minus 260°F.
Everyone within a two mile radius of the plant was evacuated and Swaner confirmed all employees had been accounted for at the plant. The Tri-Cities Herald said there was a “large cloud of fumes was floating in the area as the gas escaped into the air” — and those fumes were making emergency responders managing the evacuation feel ill.
The roughly 400 people in the area were evacuated across the river to a fairgrounds in Hermiston, Oregon, and the main road through Plymouth, Highway 14, was closed.
Williams Northwest Pipeline is shutting down the pipeline and allowing the gas to evaporate, hoping nothing ignites the fuel. While a massive explosion of 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas would be catastrophic, the venting of that large a container of natural gas would be equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1.3 million passenger vehicles. Swaner, from Williams Northwest Pipeline, said that the tank that was punctured was about a third full.
This plant is used to supply additional gas during times of peak demand to a pipeline running from Canada to Utah.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage and transportation has become an increasingly prominent issue in the United States as advocates push for increased investment in export infrastructure to be able to sell more gas abroad. Right now there are few export terminals, but many defunct import terminals being converted in hopes of exporting (largely) shale gas fracked from all over the country overseas to Asia and Europe.