Official Says Gas Line That Exploded Wasn't Marked

The gas line that killed one man and injured eight others when it exploded last month was not marked, a high ranking National Transportation Safety Board Official said this week.

NTSB Chairperson Deborah A.P. Hersman gave the remarks Tuesday during a United States House of Representatives hearing on the safety of hazardous liquid pipelines.

The blast occurred west of Cleburne near the intersection of Johnson, Hood and Somervell counties shortly before 3 p.m Monday, June 7. Contractors were digging holes for overhead transmission lines and struck an underground natural gas pipeline, officials said.

"One member of the contractor's crew was drilling a hole while operating an auger affixed to a truck when the auger struck and punctured the transmission pipeline," Hersman said.

A huge fireball shot hundreds of feet into the air, witnesses reported. Some people heard the blast as far as 20 miles away.

Enterprise Product Partners of Houston owns the pipeline. Gautreaux works for Dewey, Okla.-based C&H Power Line Construction Co. who was contracted by Brazos Electric.

The pipeline, constructed in 1971, is 388 miles long, originating in Coyanosa, Texas, and terminating in Ennis, Texas, according to NTSB records cited in Hersman's comments.

Service was disrupted for five days following the blast, Enterprise said.

"Workmen in the area reported that they saw markers for the second pipeline," the chairperson said.

"An NTSB investigator and Texas Railroad Commission personnel visiting the site also observed markers for the second pipeline, but the ruptured pipeline was not marked," she continued.

The NTSB says it is still investigating this incident with the assistance of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state's regulatory agency for pipeline safety.

Corey Gautreaux, 22, is back at home after suffering third degree burns he received when the crew he was working with struck the natural gas line.

A lawsuit has been filed on his behalf against Enterprise Product Partners. It includes claims of negligence and gross negligence. The suit claims the company failed to properly mark its gas lines and failed to warn workers where the lines were located.

There is no word on what type of damages are being sought on the lawsuit.

"He watched his good friend and coworker die," Gautreaux's mother told us shortly after the suit was filed last month. "He's still dealing with that, too."

James Robert Neese, 45, died. He left behind a wife and seven children. Gautreaux is one of the eight others who were injured.

"What makes it so sad is that several people were seriously hurt and at least one life was lost simply because proper safety procedures weren't followed," Mark Lanier of the Lanier Law Firm said in a written statement.

A company spokesperson with Enterprise Products released the following statement:  "Prior to the rupture, a pipeline locator was dispatched to place temporary markers over the pipeline but was unable to locate the excavation activity.  On the morning of the accident, the locator contacted the contractor and he was told that the work was complete.  The accident occurred later that afternoon".

The spokesman said its control room was immediately notified of the break when it happened.  The 36-inch line was equipped with valves that automatically shut down gas to that section of pipe, according to the company.

Repairs to the pipeline have been completed.

Background information from a report by NBCDFW's Scott Gordon included in this article.

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