An Enbridge pipeline explosion in central Kentucky Aug. 1 killed one woman, injured five others, and forced the evacuation of at least 75 people from a heavily damaged and partially destroyed community.

The Aug. 1 explosion occurred near the rural Moreland community, about 50 miles southwest of Lexington. Residents for several miles around the gas explosion reported feeling the quake of the blast, and many witnesses posted videos of a fireball that reached more than 300 feet in the air at its peak.

Authorities say the explosion occurred when a section of the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline broke. The pipeline is owned and operated by Enbridge, an energy transportation company with a history of safety violations and accidents.

The section of pipeline that exploded is part of a 9,000-mile system stretching from the Mexican border to New York City. Enbridge reported transporting 3.9 billion barrels of oil through its pipeline system last year.

One dead, five injured, several displaced

The explosion killed Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, of Stanford, Kentucky. Five other people were hospitalized with injuries of varying degrees.

Several structures near the blast caught fire in the area of the Indian Camp subdivision, according to Lexington’s KYTV. At least five homes were destroyed and several others were damaged. The blast forced the evacuation of about 75 people, some of whom sought shelter in the New Hope Baptist Church in Stanford.

“Enbridge is aware of and is responding to a rupture on the Texas Eastern system in Lincoln County, Kentucky. Our first concern is for those impacted by this event and ensuring the safety of the community. Our teams are coordinating with first responders to secure the site. We have isolated the affected line and are working closely with emergency responders to manage the situation. We will provide more information as it becomes available,” an Enbridge spokesperson said, according to KYTV.

History of safety violations

The Duluth News Tribune reported that the U.S. government has taken 29 enforcement actions against Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission, LP. U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) records show the company racked up numerous safety violations, including failure to properly document pressure tests and in-line inspections.

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, told Michigan Public Radio that the number of failures per mile of Enbridge pipeline has gone up over the past five years, especially in regard to the Texas Eastern pipeline.

“The causes are kind of concerning too, because about 70% of those significant incidents are from things that the pipeline companies say that they ought to be able to control, things like corrosion, bad welds, and bad equipment, and incorrect operation of the pipeline,” Mr. Weimer said.

Midwestern media outlets have taken a special interest in the Kentucky pipeline explosion. In July 2010, an Enbridge pipeline failure in Michigan released about a million gallons of heavy bitumen oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The spill was one of the largest and costliest inland oil spills in U.S. history. Enbridge paid $177 million in penalties and improved safety measures in the wake of the spill, which took several years to remediate.

In Wisconsin, Superior Mayor Jim Paine expressed concern about the 11 Enbridge pipelines under his city to the company’s Superior Terminal.

“While industry sometimes results in accidents, I think we need to make sure we have the safest possible working and living environment around these resources,” Mr. Paine told the Duluth News Tribune. “There’s an absolute obligation when there’s been a serious accident to identify the causes and make improvements and prevent that from happening again,” he added. “It is not acceptable to simply say the industry is dangerous and leave it at that. We understand it’s dangerous. It must get safer.”

“Something was going to happen”

Jodie Coulter, a neighbor of the woman who was killed in last week’s explosion, suffered burn injuries from the blast. She and her husband were so concerned about living near the Enbridge pipeline that they had been looking for another place to live before the explosion.

Their concerns were stoked by two recent episodes in which the ground below their neighborhood shook violently. The most recent episode occurred 10 days before the blast. She told the Lexington Herald-Leader that workers had marked lines in the ground near the pipeline recently, but wasn’t sure if any work had been done at the site. She made phone calls to voice her concerns in the days before the blast but wasn’t sure who owned the pipelines. She even called the police only to find out they had no jurisdiction in her area.

The deadly blast occurred just 300 feet from Ms. Coulter’s property. She lost her home and all her possessions when the massive fireball consumed her neighborhood.

“I kept an overwhelming feeling inside of me that something was going to happen,” she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate the Enbridge pipeline explosion in Kentucky. It generally takes the agency 12-16 months to complete an investigation and issue a final report.

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