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Federal report blames negligent pipeline maintenance for blasts

A report on a 2009 pipeline explosion sheds light on a chronic problem in the oil refining industry: corroded pipes that management failed to inspect regularly, and that were not properly designed in the first place. This issue puts workers across the country at risk, including in Texas.

The report was commissioned by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. It focused on a pipeline explosion at a Silver Eagle Refining plant that damaged 100 homes. Four workers were knocked to the ground by the force. Fortunately, none of them was killed. But if anyone had been standing near the pipe when it blew, he or she might not have survived, according to the chairman of the Chemical Safety Board.

According to the investigation, the explosion and resulting fire happened because of corrosion in the steel pipe. The refining process creates sulfur compounds, which eat away at the steel. Over time, the walls of the pipe became “severely thin,” according to the Chemical Safety Board’s lead investigator.

This is very similar to other pipeline explosion in recent years, such as one at a Tesoro refinery in 2010 that killed seven people, and one at a Chevron facility in 2012. In fact, the report indicates that pipe corrosion is a problem throughout the industry.

The board says that companies are not proactive when it comes to building and maintaining safe pipelines. They often tend to wait for an inspection to uncover corroded pipes, instead of designing the pipeline to minimize the issue and monitoring its condition with sufficient attention.

This worrisome report describes one aspect of the risks that workers in the oil and gas industries face every day of injury in workplace accidents.

Source: Deseret News, “Report: Severe pipeline corrosion caused massive Silver Eagle refinery explosion,” Amy Joi O’Donoghue, April 10, 2014

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