Natural Pipeline Rupture & Fire
October 17, 2022
By Kirstyn Cataldo, Jen Holmstadt, WSB
In May of 2020, a natural gas transmission pipeline ruptured in Hillsboro, Kentucky, causing a fire and millions of dollars in damage. The rupture, which occurred on a hillside pipe segment, had previously been identified by the operator for geotechnical monitoring and mitigation due to the presence of an active landslide. Following the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a pipeline investigation report (PIR-22/01) on the incident. While thankfully there were no fatalities or injuries, the operator estimated the cost of property damage and emergency response was $11.7 million.
Between 2018 and 2020, the operator performed multiple integrity management studies, including in-line inspections (ILIs) and geohazard assessments at the site of active landsliding. Integrity studies indicated that the affected pipeline was exposed to external loads, or loads transmitted to a pipeline from an external source. Although the operator planned to mitigate the hazardous site in Summer 2020, hillslope failure and pipeline rupture occurred before mitigation was completed.
Tips for Proactive Pipeline Management and Risk Mitigation
For gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, proactive management of geohazard risks is critical. To ensure pipeline safety and integrity, here are some tips for operators:
- Perform comprehensive geohazard risk assessments, including field surveys, to efficiently identify, document and prioritize the nature and extent of potential threats. Detailed investigations should reduce uncertainly and improve risk and financial-based decision-making.
- Quantify external loading and load distributions for at-risk pipelines.
- Monitor environmental conditions and changing weather patterns. Soil stability can be adversely impacted by changing weather patterns, so it’s important to check soil and surface materials regularly.
- With the assistance of geotechnical engineers, design and implement site-specific monitoring and mitigation plans based on risk analyses and load calculations. Monitoring and mitigation plans should provide operators sufficient time and information to act in response to geohazard events.
How WSB Can Help
Due to the complexity and variability of geohazards, WSB’s Energy Sciences team recommends comprehensive geohazard risk assessments be performed for energy pipelines on five-year schedules. Our team of scientists and risk assessment specialists can help you identify, mitigate, and manage geohazard risks through services tailored to meet regulatory requirements and individual risk profiles.
For more information on how WSB can enhance your integrity management program, please contact Jen Holmstadt at 612.619.9215 or JHolmstadt@wsbeng.com.
Jen is a senior project manager in the oil and gas division and has over 15 years of experience. As project manager, Jen oversees the development of GIS-based geohazard models and multi-state field inspection programs. Jen also works with developing risk assessment programs that cities, states, and counties can use to mitigate environmental risks to assets and public safety.
Kirstyn serves as the Senior Geomorphologist for WSB’s energy sciences team. She has over 7 years of technical and professional experience in the state and federal government and private industry. Her technical expertise includes geospatial (GIS) modeling and data analysis, digital imagery processing and manipulation, geologic and geohazard site assessments, and surface mapping.