By Joel Phelps
Last week, numerous Hampton residents were evacuated after, according to Magnolia Reporter, excavation work caused a rupture in an anhydrous ammonia pipeline that runs through Calhoun County.
With three natural gas pipelines dissecting Clark County, is there concern for residents in the event of a rupture?
Tate Chanler, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, says there isn’t.
Asked by The Arkadelphian if a natural gas pipeline rupture would cause a mass evacuation, Chanler didn’t hesitate to respond.
“More than likely not,” he said. “With where the pipelines run — through the southern part of the county — we would be evacuating some homes, depending on how big the leak is, but not many. We have no liquid petroleum or anything of that nature.”
The Texas Eastern pipeline, owned by the Canadian-based Enbridge Inc., carries natural gas from the southernmost tip of Texas to New York City, dissecting Clark County en route in a southwest-to-northeast fashion. The three pipes run on the outskirts of both Gurdon, to the northwest, and Arkadelphia, to the southeast.
Chanler noted the pipelines are surprisingly old. “The big one in the south part of the county is 80 years old, built in the ‘40s,” he said. “Most pipelines nationwide are old.”
With local representatives based throughout Arkansas, routine maintenance is performed to keep the lines in good shape, Chanler said. “They’re always doing maintenance on the pipelines and check on the right-of-ways,” he said,
Still, there are occasional ruptures in the pipes that carry the flammable gas, but there have been none that have forced officials to send residents away from their homes. As the underground pipes vary in depth, the ruptures typically happen when a deer hunter using the right-of-way drives over one on a UTV or ATV. “That’s where a lot of your breaches come from,” Chanler said.
There are dangers associated with natural gas. “It’s just like a gas leak in your house,” Chanler said. “If there’s a spark, it could cause an explosion.” When a rupture does happen, it’s made evident by a loud hissing sound emitting from the pipeline, as well as the odor of rotten eggs — natural gas, which is odorless, contains a foul-smelling additive to alert people of a leak.
Chanler said that, in the rare event of a major natural gas pipeline rupture, OEM and other agencies would evacuate home within a certain distance of the breach. Firefighters, especially those trained in HAZMAT, would clear the area of people, staying away from the leak until pipeline officials arrive to shut off valves and make repairs.
Every summer, OEM and firefighters undergo a two-hour training course for pipeline rupture response practices. Representatives from the gas companies reiterate the importance of dialing 811 before digging, identify pipeline markers and explain the procedures the companies expect.
Click here for more information about the history, movement and environmental impacts of natural gas.