Explosion at Natural Gas Pipeline in New Mexico in 2000
In August 2000 a natural gas pipeline owned and operated by El Paso Natural Gas Company (EPNG) exploded resulting in twelve fatalities of an extended family camping near the pipeline 30 miles outside Carlsbad, New Mexico. For more information on the explosion please click here:
The Department of Transportation (DOT) attempted to resolve the claims resulting from this explosion administratively with EPNG but was unable to do so. It used its new authority (under the Oil Pipeline Safety Act) to refer the matter to the Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section – this was DOT’s first such civil referral. The cause of the 2000 explosion was determined to be a significant reduction in the pipe wall thickness due to severe internal corrosion on a 50 year old pipeline.
2007 Consent Decree. The Environmental Enforcement Section negotiated a Consent Decree with EPNG resolving the United States’ allegations. The Consent Decree entered by the court in 2007:
- required EPNG to pay a $15.5 million civil penalty and undertake extensive injunctive relief to implement modifications and comprehensive reform on the entire 10,000 miles of EPNG pipeline system.
- resolved allegations in the Complaint that EPNG failed to employ personnel qualified in corrosion control methods; failed to investigate and mitigate internal corrosion in two of its pipelines transporting corrosive gas; and failed to suitably monitor those two pipelines to determine the effectiveness of steps taken to minimize internal corrosion.
The extensive injunctive relief required EPNG to implement many changes to its internal corrosion control monitoring program, including the following:
- inspect segments of EPNG’s gas pipeline system with in-line inspection tools to determine wall thickness of the pipes;
- collect and analyze liquid samples for corrosive properties whenever a piece of pipeline is opened on its system;
- comply with Gas Quality Guidelines requiring the monitoring of potentially corrosive gas quality constituents in the gas stream;
- conduct reviews of data and information to determine the frequency of inspections on its pipelines; and
- develop a training program for EPNG’s corrosion control specialists and engineers.
The changes EPNG is implementing under this Consent Decree serve as a model to other natural gas pipeline operators of steps to take to minimize internal corrosion on its pipeline systems.