Recent natural gas explosion sparks community interest

PARKERSBURG – An explosion at a natural gas pumping facility in Tyler County underscores the new challenges for local fire departments as planners expect increased exploration into the Marcellus Shale, officials said.

The explosion on April 11 near Wick killed two people, one from Marietta, and injured two others.

Fires occur when three things happen, Capt. Tim Flinn, chief fire inspector with the Parkersburg Fire Department, said. Fuel, which can be solid, liquid or gas, combines with oxygen and a heat source, he said.

In a gas explosion, the best mitigation is to shut off the gas and protect nearby things from any impact, he said.

“The fire departments should be familiar with the pressures in the gas lines and the responsible parties should assure the pipes are in condition to maintain the pressure,” he said. “This is a relatively new challenge for firefighters and the general public for that matter.”

Flinn said fire training seminars address current issues so firefighters can be confident on mitigating the emergencies that could occur as a result of a new industry like Marcellus Shale.

Although officials can be trained on emergency situations, fighting fires is always an unpredictable cause and it seems there are no two fires exactly alike, Flinn said.

“Each firefighter is trained to first and foremost protect life-safety and then property conservation,” he said. “(Firefighters) must know ahead of time who to contact and understand multiple agencies will most likely be involved.”

Chief Steve Scholl with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department said incidents like the one in Tyler County are not something local firefighters have to worry about every day, but firefighters are trained to cut the gas supply off as best they can.

The Tyler County explosion was a flash fire at Eureka Hunter Pipeline facility. Magnum Hunter Resources, Eureka’s parent company, said the facility was a “pig receiving station,” devices that clean or inspect pipelines.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.