A gas pipeline in Brooke County, West Virginia exploded into a ball of flames on Monday morning, marking the fourth major mishap at a U.S. pipeline this month.
No one was hurt in the explosion, but residents told the local WTRF 7 news station that they could see a massive fireball shooting hundreds of feet into the air. An emergency dispatcher reportedly told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the flames had melted the siding off one home and damaged at least one power line. The gas pipeline is owned by Houston, Texas-based The Enterprise Products, L.P., which said Monday evening that it is investigating the cause of the explosion.
The West Virginia explosion is the fourth in a string of news-making pipeline incidents this month. Earlier this month, a gas pipeline in Mississippi operated by GulfSouth Pipeline exploded, rattling residents’ windows and causing a smoke plume large enough to register on National Weather Service radar screens. On Jan. 17, a pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC in Montana spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, a spill that left thousands of Montanans without drinkable tap water. Just a few days later, on Jan. 22, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier in the month. That spill was widely deemed the state’s largest contaminant release into the environment since the North Dakota oil boom began.
Here’s some footage of Monday’s explosion’s resulting fire, via WTRF 7:
The four incidents come while American lawmakers are entrenched in debate whether the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — a proposed 1,700-mile line that would bring up to 860,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands crude oil down to Texas and Louisiana refineries every day — is in the national interest.
One of arguments most often made by environmentalists against the pipeline is that, if a spill were to occur from Keystone XL, it would be harder to clean up than a spill from a conventional oil or gas pipeline. Canadian tar sands oil is thicker and more sludgy than regular oil, and does not float on top of water like conventional crude. Instead, it gradually sinks to the bottom. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the fact that Keystone XL would pass over the Ogallala aquifer, Nebraska’s primary source of drinking water. Nebraska’s state Department of Environmental Quality has said that a spill in or around the aquifer would only affect local, not regional water sources.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already passed a bill approving Keystone XL’s construction, and the Senate is expected to pass an identical bill this week, though it has come up against unexpected procedural hurdles. President Obama has pledged to veto the bill.