Company: Workers verified gas line location before deadly natural gas explosion in Texas

By Angela K. Brown, AP
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Company: Workers followed procedure before blast

CLEBURNE, Texas — A utility crew that accidentally struck a natural gas line, sparking a fiery explosion that killed one worker, followed the proper procedures in locating the line before digging, a company official said Tuesday.

Fred Haag, chief operating officer of Oklahoma-based C&H Power Line Construction Services, said the crew already had a survey map showing gas lines in the area but also made calls to verify the line location at the site in rural Johnson County, about 50 miles southwest of Dallas.

Michael Williams of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, said calls were made to locate the line, a requirement before any company or person does excavation work, but his agency is investigating what was said during those calls.

Authorities identified the man killed in Monday’s blast as James Robert Neese, 45, of Ramona, Okla. His body was found Monday night about 600 feet from the explosion site after authorities deemed the charred area safe enough to do a thorough search.

“Even at night, the soles of their shoes were melting because it was still extremely hot,” said Jack Snow, Johnson County’s emergency management coordinator.

At least seven of the other 13 workers who had been close to the site were treated at hospitals, mostly for burns to their necks and arms as they ran away from the massive fireball, Haag said. Only one worker remained hospitalized Tuesday, he said.

A 23-member crew that had been working in the area for several months was drilling a hole Monday for an 80- to 120-foot utility pole when the gas line was struck and ruptured, sending a massive fireball into the air that burned out about two hours later after the gas flow was shut off.

“Some of the guys heard it from a distance,” Haag said Tuesday. “There was an explosion of flames and everybody started running.”

Several of Neese’s relatives also work for C&H, including his brother who was at the site Monday but was not injured. Neese, who has several children and stepchildren, recently welcomed a new baby with his wife, Haag said.

“It’s hard because we’re a fairly small company and close-knit,” Haag said. “His crew was like a family to him, and he watched them like a mother hen.”

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations are also investigating the blast.

After investigators finish looking over the site, workers will repair the ruptured pipeline, which is expected to take several days, said Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP, which partially owns the 36-inch-diameter line. It is a 395-mile segment of a pipeline extending from western to eastern Texas, the company said in a Tuesday news release.

will not be displayed