The photographs and TV news footage of last Monday’s fatal gas line explosion just over the Somervell County line depicted a terrifying tower of flames and smoke that shot hundreds of feet into air and blackened the sky. Officials said it’s a miracle more workers were not killed or injured.
Then the day after the Johnson County blast, another gas line exploded in the Texas Panhandle, killing two people.
Needless to say, there was mourning in Texas rather than celebrating on June 10, which Congress had designated National Pipeline Safety Day.
On that day workers were digging out a 100-foot-long section of the damaged 36-inch pipeline near the Fort Spunky community. Federal and state investigators are examining evidence to try to determine the accident’s cause. Seven people were injured. One remains hospitalized in Glen Rose Medical Center.
Last week’s explosions again focused attention on pipeline safety in Texas, which has the country’s largest network of pipelines. The Barnett Shale boom added even more miles of new pipelines, including one just north of Walnut Springs.
The explosion site was at the area where the Somervell, Hood and Johnson counties meet. It occurred when a worker began drilling a hole for a utility pole and struck the gas line.
Maps from the Texas Railroad Commission indicate that that three-county-corners area is also where transmission pipelines meet. The pipeline that erupted was owned by Enterprise Products Partners LP.
Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said serious pipeline accidents are “very rare and the good news is that most can be prevented.
“Nationwide, the leading cause of serious pipeline incidents is outside damage, typically a contractor, landscaper, farmer or do-it-yourself homeowner who hits the pipeline while digging,” Ireland added.
Under the Texas One Call Law, contractors and homeowners must dial 811 at least two working days before installing a fence or digging a foot or deeper for any reason.
At the corner of County Road 325 and FM 2174 just up the road from the explosion site, a sign warned of underground gas lines owned by another company, Atmos Energy. “811 – Know what’s below. Call before you dig” it urges.
Obviously, gas lines were known to be underground in that area. Then why did a worker digging holes for utility poles drill in the wrong place and make a fatal mistake?
That remains the question that state and federal investigators are focusing on.
Meanwhile, the man killed in the accident, James Robert "Gator" Neese, 45, of Ramona, Okla., a father of seven children, was buried last week. He grew up in the oil business, having worked with his father in Victoria at age 18.
At the time of his death, Neese was employed with C & H Powerline of Dewey, Okla., where he had worked for the past 11 years.
His is survived by his wife, Lavonne. The Neeses had four sons and three daughters, including a month-old baby.
A memorial trust fund has been established for his children. Those who wish may send their contributions to the Neese Children Trust Fund, c/o Arvest Bank, P.O. Box 999, Bartlesville, OK 74005.