Deadly pipeline blast gets safety board investigation

The pipeline explosion killed one and injured four.

Smoke rises from the site of an explosion on the Colonial Pipeline. CREDIT: AP/Brynn Anderson
Smoke rises from the site of an explosion on the Colonial Pipeline. CREDIT: AP/Brynn Anderson

The deadly explosion in a Colonial Pipeline gasoline line in Alabama that killed one man and seriously injured four is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency said Friday.

The NTSB, an independent U.S. government investigative agency, comes as Colonial said it would restart the so-called Line 1 Sunday, less than a week after the pipeline exploded near Helena, prompting a 3-mile radius evacuation order and a fire that burned for days.

A team of five NTSB investigators arrived at the accident site Thursday, the NTSB said in a statement. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is also involved, but the NTSB is leading the investigation

NTSB investigators expect to be in Alabama for several days doing interviews, documenting the site, and collecting physical evidence. Investigators will also travel to the Colonial offices in Alpharetta, Georgia, to interview staff, review control room operations, and collect documents.

Line 1 is a major supply source for the East Coast. The explosion took place about a mile from where the same line suffered a some 250,000 gallons of gasoline leak in September. That leak caused an uptick in fuel prices across multiple southern states and the East Coast.

On Wednesday, a group of House Democrats urged for an investigation into Colonial, noting the recent accident was the “third major incident on Colonial’s system in just over a year and the seventh in less than five years.

“This is an unacceptable situation, and we are concerned that the number, frequency, and severity of significant incidents on Colonial’s system over the past five years could be symptomatic of severe underlying problems with the system and the company’s management of that system,” the lawmakers wrote.

Colonial is one of the largest-volume pipeline transporters of refined petroleum products in the planet. It supplies gasoline for some 50 million people from Texas to New York.

It also has a history of violations and record-breaking fines. In 2003, Colonial agreed to pay $34 million — then the largest civil penalty a company has paid in Environmental Protection Agency history — for spilling 1.4 million gallons of oil from a 5,500 mile pipeline system. The settlement covered spills that affected five states in the late 1990s.