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Explosions in Three States Highlight Dangers of Aging Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Explosions in Three States Highlight Dangers of Aging Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Site of gas pipeline explosion in Kentucky

On August 1, for the third time in as many years, Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission gas pipeline exploded. This tragic incident in central Kentucky killed a 58-year-old woman, Lisa Denise Derringer, and injured at least five others. Flames towered 300 feet high when the 30-inch diameter pipe ruptured at 1 a.m. and forced at least 75 people to evacuate.

“We opened the backdoor and it was like a tornado of fire going around and around and he said we were trapped,” survivor Jodie Coulter, 53, told CBS News, describing her efforts to flee on foot. Coulter, whose house was within 600 feet of the pipeline, suffered third-degree burns on her arms. “It felt like we were standing next to a blow torch.”

This explosion joins a string of others in the past several weeks involving America’s aging fossil fuel infrastructure — including a network of 2.6 million miles of pipelines, roughly half of which are over 50 years old, and over 130 oil refineries, many of which are 50 to 120 years old.

The Kentucky incident came less than 24 hours after ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, petrochemical plant saw its second major fire this year.

Last week’s Baytown explosion injured 66 workers and has already spurred at least three lawsuits against the company, including one by a worker alleging his burns were far more serious than ExxonMobil had indicated.

Just over a month earlier, a massive fireball and series of explosions ripped through the largest refinery on the East Coast, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions complex.

Flare at Exxon's Baytown, Texas, refinery following Hurricane Harvey.
Flare at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery following Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Aging Pipelines, Aging Refineries

It may be months before federal investigators reach conclusions about the cause of each accident, but all three incidents took place at sites with a long history of operations — and accidents.

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