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Williams Reviews Safety After Fire, Explosions at Gas Plants

Williams Cos., the fourth-biggest U.S. pipeline operator, is studying its safety practices after a series of incidents including a fatal Louisiana explosion in June and a fire last week at a natural gas-processing plant in Wyoming.

“Certainly, this has come as a big surprise to our organization,” Chief Executive Officer Alan Armstrong said on a conference call with analysts today. “We are conducting very thorough investigations into each incident to determine if there’s any common or root cause.”

The April 23 fire shut down the gas plant near Opal, Wyoming, and forced the evacuation of the town as a precaution. That followed a March 31 explosion at a liquefied gas storage facility in Plymouth, Washington, that led to another evacuation.

In December, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $99,000 fine against Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams following a June explosion at a processing plant in Geismar, Louisiana. Two workers were killed and 80 were injured when a fireball erupted at the plant, which is owned by Williams Partners LP, a partnership controlled by Williams Cos.

Discussions with OSHA over the matter continue, a company spokesman, Tom Droege, said in an e-mail. Over the last five years, Williams has had a lower rate of incidents on its pipelines than the industry average, he said, citing federal statistics.

Full Attention

Armstrong, the CEO, said Williams will address its safety record further at its annual analyst conference on May 14.

“I can tell you that this has my full attention and the attention of our board as well,” he said. “We’re looking hard to determine what other contributing factors may be out there and to make sure that we’re doing our business in as safe a manner as possible.”

Williams Cos. rose 2.6 percent to $43.27 at the close in New York. The company yesterday said adjusted first-quarter profit was 28 cents a share, beating analysts’ estimates.

Enterprise Products Partners LP, based in Houston, is the biggest pipeline operator by market value.

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