ICYMI: A Natural Gas Pipeline Exploded, And a Police Dashcam Caught It

By Yessenia Funes Jan 19, 2017

A natural gas pipeline in Texas exploded around 11 p.m. CT Monday night (January 17) due to causes the company behind the line, DCP Midstream, is investigating.

The explosion occurred outside Spearman, Texas, a small community with a large Mexican population. No one was injured, but one family was evacuated, said Roz Elliott, the company’s vice president for public affairs. An adjacent highway was also closed.

The Spearman Police Department captured the accident in a dashcam video below, seen at the 38 second mark:

No external investigation is being launched on the 26-inch wide, 15-mile long gathering pipeline, which brings natural gas to a processing plant. Gathering pipelines have come under public scrutiny in the last year as many—including this one—are unregulated. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) website notes that the most commonly reported concerns with gathering lines include the “limited information about pipeline construction quality, maintenance practices, location and Pipeline Integrity Management.”

More than 6,000 miles of gathering lines run through Texas, reported Houston Public Media in 2016, a 33 percent increase from 2013. And these lines are not only increasing in number, they’re increasing in size, too. What were once just inches in diameter are now as wide as three feet.

The state sees some of the highest number of pipeline incidents in the country: Since 2010, a total of 2,029 pipeline incidents occurred, according to public data from the PHMSA. Last year alone saw 273. While a minority involved carbon dioxide pipelines, the majority of them were transporting crude oil, petroleum and natural gas.

Environmentalists around the country have been vocal about pipeline safety since the Dakota Access Pipeline battle in North Dakota took the national stage. Energy Transfer Partners, responsible for the pipeline, is working on two lines in Texas: the Comanche Trail Pipeline and Trans-Pecos Pipeline. Crystal Arrieta, member of local environmental organization Earth Guardians El Paso, says that the 195-mile long Comanche Trail Pipeline is too close to the neighborhoods and schools in San Elizario, Texas. In a text message to Colorlines, Arrieta said:

It is a very real possibility of an explosion like that to happen here, and it’s dehumanizing to feel so disregarded this way without considering all the risks being taken with this pipeline. This pipeline could have easily been put in an area where it is not heavily populated, yet it seems the pipeline company did not even consider such a thing and rather decided to run over a historic and rich cultural city.

Bill Addington, an organizer with Frontera Water Alliance, another local environmental organization which has been advocating for environmental justice since the ’80s, agrees. He says pipeline explosions aren’t a matter of if but, rather when. The Comanche Trail is 42 inches in diameter—twice the size of the gathering line that exploded Monday.

“It’s not just environmental,” he says. “It’s a huge health and safety issue.”