Operator of Adair County pipeline among industry's most penalized

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Federal regulators have ordered a natural gas transmission company to cease using or reduce pressure along nearly 280 miles of  pipeline in Kentucky and Tennessee that they deem potentially "hazardous to life, property and the environment."

The U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a corrective action order to Columbia Gulf Transmission last Friday, one day after one of the company's gas pipelines exploded in rural Adair County, Ky.

The safety administration considered the age of the nearly 50-year-old pipe, the circumstances surrounding the failure, the line's proximity to populated areas and roads and the unknown cause of the explosion in issuing the order.  

"I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment," wrote Alan Mayberry, the administration's deputy associate administrator for pipeline safety.

The order also requires Columbia Gulf to submit a report by mid-May that determines if conditions that led to the Adair County rupture exist elsewhere along a 254-mile section of pipeline that runs between Hartsville, Tenn., and Catlettsburg, Ky.

"Columbia Gulf is and will continue to comply with all expectations set forth by our regulatory agencies.  Columbia is and was prepared to work with PHMSA on all actions detailed within the Corrective Action Order," Katie Dupuis Martin, spokeswoman for Columbia Pipeline Group, said in a statement.

Martin said Columbia Gulf is working with investigators to determine the cause of the blast and will "address and apply all lessons learned."

The company has continued to service its customers by isolating the area of the blast and using other lines in the system, she said.

Federal regulators issue the orders when they believe hazardous conditions exist. Five orders were issued nationwide in 2013, for example, while 266 total pipeline investigations occurred.  

Investigators still don't know what caused the blast, which destroyed two houses, three small buildings, one carport and four cars, according to preliminary findings. One house and several other buildings also were damaged.

The two people who were taken to a local hospital following the explosion were treated for burns and released, according to the safety administration.

A spokeswoman for the Columbia Pipeline Group did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Bellingham, Wash.-Pipeline Safety Trust, which tracks pipeline operators, found that from 2006 to 2013 federal regulators proposed $1.56 million in penalties against Columbia Gulf – more than any other company.

"This company does have more than twice as many significant pipeline incidents as the national average for such pipelines," Carl Weimer, the Pipeline Safety Trust's executive director, said in an email.

As of last Friday, officials with the Houston-based Columbia Pipeline Group were working with investigators to determine the cause of the explosion and meeting with affected landowners and residents in the Knifley area of Adair County, according to the last update posted on the company's website.

The update also thanked residents for their patience and understanding.

"We will continue to do whatever we can to assist the community and to ensure that our whole system remains safe and operationally sound."

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