CSB investigated Macondo

An independent federal industrial chemical incident investigation arm–the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB)–said today that it is dispatching Denver-based investigators to the recent home explosion site in Weld County, Colorado.

Initial information from fire officials and other investigators in the days immediately following the incident determined that a cut flowline from a nearby gas well was the cause of the explosion in Firestone, which killed two and sent two people to the hospital on April 17.

The incident set off a series of inspections by the local fire department, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and voluntary well shut-ins and inspections by several oil and gas companies operating in northern Colorado, including Anadarko Petroleum, Great Western Oil & Gas Company and Extraction Oil & Gas.

Firestone Fire Chief Ted Poszywak held a press conference May 2 discussing the results of the investigation. Poszywak said two gas flowlines originally connected the well to a tank battery nearby, and ran under the home.

The tank battery was moved in 2002 to accommodate the housing development and the well’s production was rerouted. One of the old lines was cut and capped at the wellhead, but the second was not cut or disconnected from the well. At some point the uncapped flowline was cut near the foundation of the home, allowing gas to seep into the nearby soil, Poszywak said.

In the wake of the accident, the State of Colorado ordered thousands of wells and pipelines to be inspected within 30 days.

To date, investigators have said the uncapped flow line came within several feet of the home and was the likely source of the explosion.

How the CSB operates

The CSB investigators will examine the circumstances surrounding the shut in well, the cut flow lines and the home’s proximity. The CSB does not issue citations or fines—but it does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.

The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities, which it says  are usually deficiencies in safety management systems, but can be any factor that would have prevented the accident if that factor had not occurred, the board said. Other accident causes often involve equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions or other hazards.

The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

According to the CSB website, Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement. CSB investigative staff includes chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts, and other specialists. The CSB conducted an investigation of the Macondo-Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Usually a 6- 12 month process

After a CSB team reaches a chemical incident site, investigators begin their work by conducting detailed interviews of witnesses such as plant employees, managers, and neighbors. Chemical samples and equipment obtained from accident sites are sent to independent laboratories for testing. Company safety records, inventories, and operating procedures are examined as investigators seek an understanding of the circumstances of the accident.

Over a course of several months, investigators sift through evidence, consult with CSB members, and review regulations and industry practices before drafting key findings, root causes and recommendations.

During the process, investigators may confer with plant managers, workers, labor groups, and other government authorities. The investigative process generally takes six to twelve months to complete, and a draft report is then submitted to the Board for consideration. Reports may be adopted through a written vote of the Board or in a formal public meeting near the incident site or in Washington, DC.

Recommendations are issued to government agencies, companies, trade associations, labor unions, and other groups. Implementation of each safety recommendation is tracked and monitored by CSB staff. When recommended actions have been completed satisfactorily, the recommendation may be closed by a CSB vote.

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