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SATURDAY JANUARY 5, 2008Last modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 2:34 PM CST


Corroded pipe blamed in fatal Delhi explosion
Bystaff reports
[12/19/07]A breakdown of metal has been named as a possible contributing factor in the Friday pipeline explosion in Louisiana that left an Alabama man dead.

"We are looking at external corrosion as a strong factor," said Kelly Merritt, spokesman for pipeline owner Columbia Gulf Transmissions. "We will be doing an internal inspection of the line from Delhi to the Mississippi River, a 38-mile section, and we'll be inspecting the line as well," he said.
Corbin Fawcett, 47, of Haleyville, Ala., was killed in the explosion. George McCaleb, 58, of Fayetteville was taken to a nearby hospital with what police described as minor injuries. The two were eastbound on Interstate 20 in a 1985 Chevrolet pickup, driven by Fawcett, when the pipeline ruptured.

The blast happened just east of Delhi about 1 p.m. and sparked a fire that burned for about two hours. The 30-inch underground pipe, installed in 1954, ruptured near a small bridge that crosses a bayou on Interstate 20 at the Richland-Madison Parish line. The accident closed the highway in both directions for about five hours. The bridge and roadway were deemed safe for traffic after an inspection by Louisiana Department of Transportation officials, said a statement from the Louisiana State Police.

A second pipeline, installed in the 1960s and a third installed in the '70s are also near the site. Merritt said those lines were not damaged and were returned to service. All the pipes are made of steel, which does not rust like iron, but is vulnerable to corrosion.

The blast comes as new multistate natural gas pipelines near completion in Warren County. They are being built by Gulf South Pipeline LLC and a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp. and CenterPoint Energy Inc.

When the line is returned to service, Merritt said, a 400-foot section of pipe beneath the highway will be replaced with new, heavy wall-coated steel pipe. In addition, he said, the nearly 40-mile stretch of pipeline from Delhi east to the Mississippi River will be inspected using electronic cameras and X-ray equipment.

Investigation personnel include Columbia Gulf and independent workers, including a metallurgist and a structural engineer and personnel from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates pipeline safety.

Houston-based Columbia Gulf Transmissions, is a subsidiary of energy company NiSource. Columbia Gulf operates about 4,000 miles of pipelines that run from the Gulf Coast to the northeastern United States, passing through 15 states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, before joining other pipelines near the West Virginia border.

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