(Adds comment, updates share price in final graph)
By Selam Gebrekidan and Scott DiSavino
March 31 A pipeline within a liquefied natural
gas facility exploded in a rural area of Washington state on
Monday and emergency workers continued to work into the evening
to minimize the risk of further blasts from a leaking storage
Shrapnel from the explosion within the Williams Companies
Inc facility caused a leak in one of two LNG storage
tanks at the site near Plymouth in southeastern Washington, said
Joe Lusignan, a spokesman for the Benton County Sheriff's
"It's still volatile; it's still under investigation,"
Lusignan said late Monday afternoon.
"Because of the potential for explosion, we are focusing on
making sure that our citizens are safe," Lusignan said.
After viewing video footage of the damage taken by a robot
brought to the site by the Washington State Patrol bomb squad,
Lusignan said law enforcement and hazardous material personnel
were preparing to go to the site to evaluate damage first-hand.
"They will assess the level of damage, how to repair it and
what safety issues we still have for our citizens," he said.
Road blocks and evacuation orders remained in effect and may
continue through the night, Lusignan said.
Five workers were injured by the blast, he said. One worker
was burned; four were hit by debris and taken to local
hospitals, he said.
Williams Companies said leaking natural gas has evaporated
and there was no indication dangerous vapors were drifting into
town, which has about 400 residents.
Williams spokeswoman Michele Swaner said the company is
investigating. The cause of the explosion has not been
determined. Emergency responders evacuated workers and residents
in a two-mile (3.2 km) radius, officials said.
Each storage tank stands 133.5 feet tall and holds up to 1.2
billion cubic feet of natural gas. Together, the Williams tanks
can hold enough gas to meet nearly 3.4 percent of typical daily
U.S. natural gas demand. Williams said each tank was around one
third full before Monday's explosion.
An earlier fire at the site has been extinguished, but
Lusignan said an ongoing gas leak could still ignite. Responders
said they were containing liquid leaking from the tank.
Local media reported that the initial explosion at the gas
storage site, which occurred around 8:22 a.m. Pacific time (1522
GMT), could be heard from 20 miles (32 km) away.
Experts played down the possibility of a natural gas vapor
cloud formation that could explode.
"LNG is not as dangerous as some people think. When it is in
a liquid state it can't ignite. In a gaseous state it mixes with
air," said Kent Bayazitoglu, an analyst at Gelber & Associates
in Houston. "The most likely remaining concern is if the gas is
trapped" on site.
LNG accidents are rare, but Monday's incident could be held
as an example of safety risks by groups opposed to building new
U.S. LNG facilities, including export plants.
An explosion at a government-owned Sonatrach LNG facility in
Algeria killed 27 workers and injured many more in 2004.
Companies hoping to build new U.S. LNG plants say safety
technology, including the building of dams around storage tanks,
has improved in recent years.
Williams said it has shut the connections from its main
line, called the Northwest Pipeline, to the Plymouth facility.
The 3,900-mile-long (6,276-km-long) Northwest Pipeline,
which delivers gas to several Western States, is still
operating, Williams said.
The incident had no discernible impact on U.S. natural gas
prices, which fell Monday on the West Coast.
Shares of Williams fell 34 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $40.58
on the New York Stock Exchange, while shares of most other
energy utilities rose.
(Reporting by Selam Gebrekidan, Scott DiSavino and Joshua
Schneyer in New York, Eileen O'Grady in Houston and Timothy
Gardner in Washington D.C.; Writing by G Crosse, Grant McCool
and Richard Chang)