News Column

New Mexico Gas Co. Investigated Over 2012 Pipeline Blast

March 28, 2013

Staci Matlock

State regulators say New Mexico Gas Co. violated state laws and federal regulations last year, when two of its employees were injured in a fire while working on a Santa Fe pipeline.

Staff from the Pipeline Safety Bureau of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission filed a petition this week asking the PRC to open a hearing on the accident and to require the gas company to take actions for preventing any similar accidents.

On Aug. 8, 2012, New Mexico Gas Co. workers Steven Baca and Elias Griego were repairing a gas main in Santa Fe's Pinon Ridge subdivision, according to documents filed with the PRC. Baca was cutting into the pipeline with a hacksaw when a ball of fire erupted, injuring both men and burning nearby equipment. Both men were taken to the hospital.

A PRC staff inspector arrived shortly after the men had been taken to the hospital. He found one backhoe "totally burned" and the area so hot he had to finish the investigation the following day.

State investigators determined the men had not properly purged the gas line before working on it and were not safely venting the gases downwind during the line purge. The investigation also found Baca had cut into the "live" pressurized gas pipeline with the hacksaw when there was still a combustible mixture of gas and air inside. The men also were wearing cotton shirts and denim jeans instead of flame-retardant clothes, as required, according to investigators.

New Mexico Gas disputes some of the investigators' findings in a reply filed with the PRC.

New Mexico Gas spokeswoman Teala Kail said she couldn't comment, since the matter is still under investigation.

Source: (c)2013 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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