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An Apocalyptic Explosion Of A West Virginia Natural Gas Pipeline

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A 400-yard long and 300-yard wide field of fire engulfed a West Virginia area near the home of Sue Bonham. A natural gas pipeline had become so weak after years of corrosion eliminated about 70 percent of the pipe thickness that it exploded, setting off the fire.

She had no idea where to go. She considered trying to seek shelter in her inground pool, but luckily did not do so. The heat from the pipeline explosion had turned her pool into a cauldron.

Bonham testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee that she had thought the blast and resulting flames would cause, "[T]he earth [to] open up at any moment and swallow me." She was at home when the pipeline exploded. Her roof melted and her stepdaughter's nearby home burned to the ground as her West Virginia neighborhood seemed to be absorbed by a wall of fire.

Amazingly, no one was killed or seriously injured in the natural gas pipeline explosion, although several people, including Bonham, were treated for smoke inhalation. A nearby highway was shut down for the rest of the day.

Regulators blame aging and poorly maintained pipeline systems for similar explosions that seem to happen with little to no warning. About half of the 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines that run throughout the United States were built before 1970.

Others blame poor monitoring technology. A pipeline leak in Michigan that resulted in the largest onshore oilspill in U.S. history went undetected for 17 hours and three shift-changes. The company finally learned about the leak when an outsider called into report it. The West Virginia pipeline explosion resulted in the shutdown of two additional pipelines in the area because workers could not figure out where the source of the fire was coming from.

Source: The Insurance Journal, "Hearing Reviews West Virginia Gas Pipeline Explosion," January 30, 2013

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