Wrong coating, bad records likely to blame for deadly Coolidge pipeline explosion

The federal agency leading the investigation says that the pipeline operators incorrectly recorded the coating type.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 12:30 PM MST|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 2:35 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The National Transportation Safety Board has released an 11-page report on the deadly pipeline explosion that happened on the outskirts of Coolidge in August 2021.

Arizona’s Family reported back in January that Kinder Morgan, which runs the pipeline, submitted a request to federal regulators to restart the line. It was approved and restarted in mid-February. At the time, community members remained skeptical of the possible reopening of the pipeline, with Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson saying that he’d like to see the final report before any sort of action was taken on Line 2000, which caused the deaths of a father and daughter. The family’s mother Rosalina Alvarez suffered severe burns.

Now the federal agency leading the investigation says that the pipeline operators incorrectly recorded the coating type. The report explained that while it was noted that fusion-bonded epoxy, an industrial adhesive, was used on that section of the pipeline, it was actually spiral tape wrap. At no point, the NTSB says, was that listed in the “PODS” information system. The feds say there was also a crack in one of the seam welds that ultimately led to the pipeline’s rupture. The NTSB says records likely caused an inaccurate risk assessment for stress corrosion cracking with the wrong coating and adhesive listed in the data management system.

“Failure of a pipe is progressive. Typically, it doesn’t rupture in such a violent way as this one did,” said Peter Petrovsky, an engineering contractor unaffiliated with this incident. He looked over the new NTSB report with Arizona’s Family to give more perspective of what went wrong. “Sometimes you see fatalities like this that is preventable. And that is usually what really kind of breaks your heart because that didn’t have to happen, only because if someone paid attention,” said Petrovsky.

Petrovsky said explosions like this are rare and called the pressure from the blast “astronomical.” He said before this ruptured, there likely was a loss of gas in the pipeline that would have been the first indication something was wrong. “The chunk of metal that blew up, it took a long time for it to open up,” said Petrovsky.

In December 2021, Reuters reported that Kinder Morgan had placed the damaged part of the line entirely out of service after several months as it took steps to improve safety. Those steps included improving its data analysis systems and artificial intelligence technologies. According to the outlet, flows declined from 0.8 billion cubic feet per day to 0.65 billion cubic feet. For reference, one billion cubic feet is enough natural gas for five million homes daily. Kinder Morgan has also been publishing an outline of its maintenance schedule for the next 12-15 months, which includes a number of items and work that was being done across the pipeline’s footprint with extensive testing throughout Arizona and the Navajo Nation. To see that report, click/tap here.

A preliminary report released in 2022 with a nearly 1,200-page docket detailed that at the time of the explosion, the gas pressure was well under the maximum levels allowed under federal regulations and had been in consistent use since 1986 when it was first used to transport crude oil.

Monday afternoon, Kinder Morgan released the following statement:

Petrovsky commented on Kinder Morgan’s response to the new report. “It sounds like they’re heading in the right direction, but I think those kind of things should have been done immediately. That pipe should have been examined in detail,” he said.