Feds investigating cause of explosion; pipelines drained

A first responder walks by smoldering wood and a burning retaining wall near a home following a natural gas explosion at a pipeline complex, on Friday, April 29, 2016, in Salem Township, Pa. (AP)

GREENSBURG (AP) – Natural gas pipelines were being drained Saturday as authorities try to determine the cause of an explosion in western Pennsylvania that destroyed one home, damaged at least three others and burned a fleeing homeowner.

Officials in Westmoreland County said the 30-inch Texas Eastern transmission line burst open around 8:15 a.m. Friday in Salem Township, shooting flames into the sky.

Spectra Energy said in a statement Saturday that it is cooperating with an investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and taking steps to reduce harmful effects on the environment.

“We are deeply sorry for the effect this incident has had on the community, and we are committed to taking care of all of those involved,” the company said.

The injured man, whose home was about 500 yards from the explosion, was taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Mercy. An update on his condition wasn’t immediately available Saturday.

Company spokesman Creighton Welch said the pipeline was one of four parallel lines running through the rural area. One of the other pipelines was out of service, and the remaining two were being drained of natural gas, a process that should be finished by the end of the day, Welch said.

Bob Rosatti, chief of the Forbes Road Fire Department in Salem, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that once that work has been done, officials can begin inspecting the pipe that exploded and the three others.

Spectra Energy said that the section of pipe where the fire occurred was built in 1981 and that a 2012 inspection found “no areas requiring repair or remediation.” Welch said regulations call for the pipelines to be inspected every seven years.

The company said the state environmental officials are monitoring the air and plan to test surface water. Spectra Energy also is installing a silt fence along the stream to protect it from potential runoff from rainwater, Welch said.