Operator of Adair County pipeline among industry's most penalize - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Operator of Adair County pipeline among industry's most penalized

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The pipeline explosion that rocked rural Adair County early Thursday is the first "significant" incident involving a gas transmission line in Kentucky since 2012, according to federal safety records.

Two people were treated at a hospital following the explosion in a line operated by Columbia Gulf Transmission some 100 miles southeast of Louisville.

The company's gas transmission network also includes a pipeline that ruptured on Jan. 2, 2012 outside Irvine, Ky., lighting up the night sky and causing $1.7 million in damage, although no one was injured.

In fact, Columbia Gulf Transmission is one of the most penalized companies regulated by the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, according to an analysis provided to WDRB.com by an independent advocacy group.

Data from the Bellingham, Wash.-based Pipeline Safety Trust shows that federal regulators proposed $1.56 million in fines against Columbia Gulf Transmission between 2006 and 2011 – the highest among nearly 100 similar companies during that period. The damage to property from Columbia Gulf incidents -- $85.8 million – also was the highest listed.

The company also had the 6th-highest rate of incidents per mile of pipeline -- 0.0056 – when compared to the other operators.

Before Thursday, one person had been killed and no one injured in 24 incidents involving Columbia Gulf pipelines nationwide from 2006 to 2013, according to the most recent data from the pipeline safety administration.

Columbia Gulf is an affiliate of NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage, whose $2.1 million in proposed penalties were the highest among the 21 parent companies analyzed by the Pipeline Safety Trust. The Williams Cos., a co-developer of the Bluegrass Pipeline, had the second-highest amount of penalties -- $1.6 million – during that time.

A Columbia Pipeline Group spokeswoman, Katie Dupuis Martin, issued the following statement:

"Through more than a half century of operating experience and technological advancement, our company and partners in the natural gas pipeline industry have developed one of the safest and most reliable energy transportation networks in the world.  Our employees take pride in our company's safety record, and work tirelessly to ensure the safe delivery of energy around the clock, 365 days a year."

Nearly 26,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids – those envisioned for the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline – pass through Kentucky, according to the pipeline safety administration. More than 96 percent are gas lines.

A "significant" pipeline incident involves a death or injury that requires hospitalization; at least $50,000 in total costs; the release of at least five barrels of a highly volatile liquid; and an explosion or fire from a liquid being released, according to the pipeline safety administration.

The federal data shows that two people died and 19 were injured in pipeline incidents since 2003. The most recent death occurred in January 2013, following an explosion of a Duke Energy gas distribution line in a Newport, Ky., house.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen said the cause of that blast, which killed a person inside the home, remains under investigation. One other person was injured.

Before Thursday's explosion in Adair County, 12 of the 19 injuries since 2003 occurred in hazardous liquids pipelines, which have accounted for a disproportionate share of injuries in Kentucky.

Columbia Gulf Transmission operates nearly 700 miles of gas transmission lines in Kentucky.

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