According to early reports carried by Reuters and the Associated Press, the initial pipeline explosion occurred some 20 miles southeast of Midland, Texas and involved a natural gas pipeline that is reportedly owned by El Paso Natural Gas (EPNG) and operated by Kinder Morgan, Inc. of Houston. Although not confirmed at this time, it is assumed that workers somehow caused damage to the pipeline and the escaping natural gas immediately ignited.
After firefighters and other first responders had brought the initial fire under control by shutting down flow through the damaged section, two more explosions rocked the immediate vicinity. The cause of the second and third explosions was not immediately known, although it is suspected that a second, adjacent, pipeline may have been damaged by the initial explosion or by those working on the first pipeline.
According to representatives of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates intrastate oil and gas pipelines, the causes of the explosions are undetermined at this time. However, similar incidents in the past have been caused by workers operating heavy equipment that caused a breach in a pipeline whose location was not precisely marked or known to work crews.
Given the miles upon miles of underground natural gas pipelines, it is a testimony to modern engineering technology that explosions such as today's incidents in the Midland area are rare. In fact, when such incidents do occur, it is usually an indication that negligence has occurred. While there is nothing in the initial reports to suggest that today's incident was due to negligence by a work crew, its similarity to previous incidents is strongly suggestive that human error may have been a factor.
We at the Doan Law Firm will monitor developments in today's incident and will post updates as more information becomes available.