Spectra Gas Pipeline Explosion Cuts Flows to Eastern U.S.

  • Blast occured on 36-inch Texas Eastern line, state says
  • Company declares force majeure, unsure of timing for repairs

A natural gas explosion at a pipeline complex near Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on April 29, 2016.

Photographer: Salem Township Supervisor Kerry Jobe via AP Photo

An explosion and fire on a major Spectra Energy Corp. pipeline that crosses half the U.S. is disrupting natural gas shipments from western Pennsylvania to the Northeast.

Crews shut off the gas feeding the flames, which burst out of Spectra’s 36-inch Texas Eastern pipeline in Salem Township at about 8:30 a.m., John Poister, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said in an e-mail.

While repairs will start as soon as possible, it’s unclear when service will be restored, Spectra said in a notice. The company declared force majeure at midday, sending natural gas futures surging as much as 5.6 percent on the New York Mercantile Exchange on speculation that the outage will limit supplies to the Northeast.

One of the country’s largest pipelines, Texas Eastern runs from the Gulf Coast up through the booming Marcellus and Utica shale regions all the way to New Jersey, where it hooks up with other lines into New York and New England. The Penn-Jersey section had been transporting 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas a day through the Delmont compressor in Westmoreland County, according to Het Shah, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Gas may still be able to move out of the region through an underutilized system known as the Capacity Restoration Project, which runs parallel to the Penn-Jersey system, according to BNEF analyst Joanna Wu.

“That whole area is a big web of pipelines, so it will find its way to market, but in the short-term, it’s going to cut some flows,” Shah said.

The explosion created a conflagration that damaged "several" homes near the pipeline, engulfing one of them and injuring a man inside who was transported to a Pittsburgh hospital, Poister said. Residents of the area told media outlets they could feel rumbling as far as 6 miles away. Passing motorists captured images of the fiery scene and emergency crews set up a quarter-mile evacuation zone.

“Our first concern is for the safety of the community, our employees and any others who may be affected,” Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra, wrote in an e-mail. “We have activated our emergency response plan and are cooperating with authorities in our response, and we will provide more information at a later time.”

The DEP is investigating any effect on nearby gas wells and any environmental damage, Poister said.

Force majeure is declared to remove a company from contractual obligation because of events beyond its control.

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