Pipeline in Arkansas River ruptures, releases natural gas

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2015 1:32 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A 2-mile section of the Arkansas River near Little Rock remained closed Wednesday following the rupture of a pipeline that released enough natural gas to fuel about 65 homes for a year.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Brian Porter said the section of the swollen river, which is near Arkansas' busiest airport, will remain closed until Spectra Energy Corp. crews can check whether the pipeline poses a danger to boats. He said there have been no reports of injuries since the leak was reported Monday, and that the closure hasn't affected boat traffic because the river was already mostly closed due to flooding.

Spectra Energy Corp. spokesman Creighton Welch said the cause of the leak isn't known, and he declined to estimate how much it cost the company. The leak occurred Sunday or Monday on a 24-inch-wide backup pipeline buried 4 feet below the riverbed. The line was closed when it ruptured and the roughly 4 million cubic feet of natural gas that escaped had been what was left over inside, he said.

An incident report submitted by the company to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration indicates a boat might have struck the pipeline. Welch said investigators are still working to determine if a boat was involved. Porter said a towboat reported an explosion and sustained unspecified damage.

The auxiliary line is part of the company's Texas Eastern Pipeline, which transports fuel from Texas to New Jersey. The company provides gas to CenterPoint Energy in the Little Rock area.

Welch said Spectra Energy Corp. has indefinitely closed the main pipeline while crews work to determine how the backup was damaged.

Porter said it's unclear if the spill has affected the environment. An Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

Welch said the gas leak shouldn't have a lasting impact on the river, as the fuel escapes from the water relatively quickly.

"What happens is it will bubble up to the surface and dissipate into the air," Welch said. "There should not be any residual materials in the water."

The average U.S. family uses 168 cubic feet of natural gas per day, Welch said, meaning the escaped fuel could power about 65 homes for a year. He said Arkansas uses about 775 million cubic feet per day.

Dive crews using sonar equipment have been working the area since Monday, Welch said. Complicating their task is record rainfall across the southern Plains, which has caused waterways, including the Arkansas River, to swell.

The National Weather Service reported that the river in Little Rock has been near flood stage since before Sunday and could enter minor flood stage briefly on Wednesday or Thursday. The river is projected to crest at 23 feet, which is the exact cutoff for minor flood stage.

"Given the high levels of the river right now, some of that has been slowed," Welch said of the divers. "Obviously, we want to make sure they're safe as well."

Shane Carter, a spokesman for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, said the leak didn't cause damage to the airport or interrupt any flights.

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This story has been corrected to show the leak occurred either Sunday or Monday, not Monday.