John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2011

Pipeline would do well to offer reassurance while they’ve got our attention

The pipeline fire that drew us likes moths to the flame Monday night brings with it a reminder that the natural gas that passes in pipelines under our county’s soil is highly flammable, highly explosive and under high pressure.

For over 60 years the Tennessee Gas Pipeline pumping station on Highway 6 west of Batesville has been well regarded in the community as a corporate citizen and employer. Several generations of local people have found good jobs there, and the community has gained good citizens from people who have come here from other places to work there.

The pumping station company’s response to Monday night’s emergency has thus far been exemplary. Designated workers followed a planned emergency response that quickly shut off the gas escaping into the burst pipeline.

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By the next morning company representatives were in town, setting up a claims center at the Macedonia Community Center, providing security for the site and launching what will probably be a lengthy investigation to determine the cause of the pipeline rupture and the ignition source for the gas that escaped.

Another step the company would be well advised to implement would be a program of reassurance about the continued safety and integrity of the system’s operation. Following Monday night’s fire have been rumblings of maintenance cutbacks on the pipeline system. All of this may come from legitimate reductions in personnel as monitoring and operating have become more automated, but right now — or as soon as the company is able to complete its investigation into the cause of the explosion and fire — would be a good time for the company to tell us about itself, its Panola operations and remind us of why Monday night’s event or worse is unlikely ever to be repeated. In the coming decades, we would like to have as high a regard for the “pumping station” as it has held for its many years of history in Panola County.