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Invisible lines: The dangers of natural gas pipelines

This week, we bring you a report about the potential danger that is sometimes buried right beneath us: natural gas pipelines. On The Watch List, our series dedicated to reporting on the regulators and agencies charged with keeping us safe, we look at the state of our natural gas pipeline system. With more than two million miles of natural gas pipelines traversing the United States, the opportunity for something to go wrong is high.

In 2005, three people died in a Bergenfield, N.J., apartment building because of a gas pipeline-related explosion. In 2008, a 4-year-old girl was injured and a 64-year-old man was killed in a pipeline explosion in Plum, Penn. Three homes were destroyed and 11 others damaged. And just three months ago there was another deadly blast, this one in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight people and wiped out 37 homes.

An update released by federal investigators this week on the San Bruno blast focuses on a pipeline welding discrepancy, but it’s too soon to know whether that was the cause of that accident. Gas pipeline explosions happen for different reasons. But all too often, it’s a matter of human error, of companies or individuals not following appropriate safety procedures. Now we bring you the story of one such deadly accident reported by Dallas investigative journalist Brett Shipp.

Enterprise Products Partners sent the following statement to Need to Know:

“The Cleburne incident was a tragic accident and our condolences go out to the Neese family.

Enterprise Products understands that pipeline safety is not just an operating necessity, but a public safety imperative.  We have a comprehensive safety program designed to ensure the safety and health of the public, our employees and contractors.  We are striving to continually improve our safety program to the end of reaching our goal of preventing any incidents involving our pipelines.

Because of ongoing litigation we cannot comment further.”

Producer: Lucy Kennedy