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Dial Before You Dig - Gas Pipeline Explosion Photographs

Summary:
Email claims that attached photographs show the aftermath of a large explosion caused by a worker who ruptured a gas pipeline while operating a post hole digger (Full commentary below).



Status:
Photographs are genuine - Explanation in the message is false

Example:(Submitted January 2009)
Subject: Dial before you dig

Here is a real story to support dial before you dig ...

Yes ... it did happen in the U.S.A.

You may or may not know about the law requiring you call for utility locating before you do any excavation. The pictures below are a result of a guy using a post hole digger with out calling for "locates" and he hit an underground, high-pressure cross country gas pipe.

They never did find the guy. Took out 2 homes.

Gas Explosion 1 Gas Explosion 2
Gas Explosion 3 Gas Explosion 4
Gas Explosion 5 Gas Explosion 6
Gas Explosion 7 Gas Explosion 8



Commentary:
According to this email, attached photographs show the devastating results of forgetting to "dial before you dig". The message claims that a worker's failure to find out the location of underground gas pipes before using a post hole digger resulted in a massive explosion when the digger ruptured the gas pipe. The message also suggests that the hapless worker was killed in the explosion and his remains have never been found.

However, the claims in the message are untrue. The photographs are genuine and do show the results of a gas pipe explosion but this explosion was not caused by a post hole digger, backhoe or any other excavator and nobody was killed in the incident.

In fact, the explosion was caused by corrosion in the pipe and was not the result of any excavation work. A December article published on the Lynchburg News Advance website notes:
Outside corrosion caused the rupture and subsequent explosion in September of a natural gas pipeline just north of the town of Appomattox.

The analysis of Williams Gas Company's pipeline showed that the thinning wasn't fully captured by the tools used to examine the pipes in service, said John Batchelder, a pipeline integrity expert with the company.

"In the life of this pipeline, the coating became compromised," he said. "The rocks in this ditch make it very difficult to protect this area."
The gas pipe explosion occurred around 7:45 am on Sunday, 14th September 2008 near the town of Appromattox, Virginia. A September 14 article on the Lynchburg News Advance website notes:
"It was what can only be described as a massive fireball, a quarter- to a half-mile tall and at least that wide," said Appomattox County Deputy John Mattox, who was patrolling rural Log Cabin Road when the explosion occurred. "I couldn't see to the other side of it because that fireball was so massive. "The concussion of it almost knocked me off my feet a quarter mile away, and the heat… I thought it was coming for me and I couldn't get back fast enough."
Five people were injured and two homes were destroyed in the blast. Other photographs of the explosion site are available on the Lynchburg News Advance website

Although the claims in the message are untrue, it is certainly important to "Dial before you dig". Vast and complex cable and pipe networks service our modern towns and cities. Inadvertently hitting a pipe or cable could have far-reaching consequences for the digger and the wider community. Information on the Australian "Dial Before You Dig" website explains:
There is also of course the personal impact of an incident to the individuals responsible. Serious injury and death do happen. And if you negligently damage underground pipes or cables you may be faced with criminal prosecution and significant damages claims. Commercial damages from businesses unable to function have been known to run into millions of dollars.
Many nations, including the US, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand have centralized services to make it easier to locate pipes and cables before digging.

References:
Corrosion caused Appomattox pipeline rupture
Welcome to Historic Appomattox, Virginia
A view from above: Appomattox pipeline explosion
Dial Before You Dig - Damages & Incidents

Last updated: 16th February 2009
First published: 16th February 2009

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen