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Pressure surge in damaged pipe likely cause of explosion

Sun Advocate associate editor

The explosion and fire at the Dry Canyon compressor station in Nine Mile Canyon last Wednesday was most likely caused by a rupture in a pipeline that had been weakened when struck by a backhoe.

That was the finding of Deputy State Fire Marshal Troy Mills, who investigated the incident. "I was not able to determine when the pipe was damaged. Some time in the past, not recently," Mills wrote in response to a question from the Sun Advocate.

The investigator determined that scoring on the pipeline had weakened it, making it vulnerable to a spike in pressure.

Further investigation is being conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, according Jason Llewelyn, the county's Emergency Services Coordinator.

Llewelyn, who arrived at the blaze shortly after the Wellington Fire Department, said he could see a jet of flame erupting from the broken pipe.

Llewelyn said he had not yet seen the Fire Marshal's written report. However, he did comment that the two employees burned in the explosion were "lucky to be alive" because they had apparently been partially sheltered from the full fury of the blast.

"Twenty feet to one side or the other from where they were and they wouldn't be here," he said.

Wellington Fire Chief Johnny Powell, who was first on the scene with his crew, said that when he arrived, "There was not much to see but a whole bunch of white smoke that filled the canyon."

He had called for backup from neighboring departments in Carbon County cities when he heard that the entire facility was involved.

Powell said that Bill Barrett Corp. employees who had first spotted the fire and reported it also moved their injured co-workers to a point where they could be evacuated.

Larry Lee Joseph, one of the injured workers, was in cri

tical condition Monday at the University of Utah Intermountain Burn Center, according to spokesperson Vickie King. The other worker, Doug Jenkins, had been released.

Bill Barrett Chairman, CEO and President Fred Barrett commented in a statement, "This is a very difficult time for all of us at Bill Barrett Corporation. Our thoughts and prayers are with our injured colleagues for their speedy and complete recovery from the injuries suffered from the fire."

The company reports that it is cooperating with the investigation.

BBC has two other compressor stations on the West Tavaputs operation. Both were undamaged, but the smaller of the two, the Sage Brush station, is shut down temporarily until repairs on a pipe in the area of the fire can be completed.

Wells in the Peter's Point region of the development have been shut in pending the rerouting, which should take several days. The Prickly Pear area is still producing.

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