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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

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Tuesday, August 22, 2000

NTSB says corrosion found on pipeline

From Staff and Wire Reports

PECOS, August 22, 2000 - The death toll from a natural gas explosion has risen to 11, leaving one survivor clinging to life and investigators searching for the cause of the weekend tragedy.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board have combed the charred site along the Pecos River where a dozen family members had been camping Saturday morning when the natural gas pipeline burst into a ball of flames.

Investigators found corrosion and a thinning of the pipe's wall in a 22-foot section that was blown off the pipeline, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Monday night.

"We visibly observed a significant amount of corrosion at the bottom of the pipeline," Holloway said. "The corrosion was along the pipe."

An NTSB metallurgist was on scene Monday studying the pipe and planned to take a section to the agency's lab in Washington for further examination.

Investigators also will analyze maintenance and corrosion inspection records.

The location of the pipeline explosion, two to three miles north of the Texas-New Mexico state line on the Pecos River, is an area of highly alkali soil. It's located just southeast of a salt deposit roughly 4,000 feet thick, which comes to the surface in several areas as salt ponds which are home to a number of salt mining operations.

The federal government chose to locate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant 2,150 feet down in the salt formation, so that the caverns dug out from the salt deposits will slowly cave in and enclose low-level radioactive waste containers within over a quarter mile of salt both above and below the man-made caverns.

Water running over the salt layer empties into the Pecos River at Malaga Bend, and often raises the level of dissolved salts in Red Bluff Lake, located just south of the state line, to twice the levels found in the river at Carlsbad. The salt increases the corrosion levels of water within the river, though Red Bluff Water Power Control Board General Manager Jim Ed Miller said because the location of the pipeline rupture was underground, the river's salt content shouldn't have been a factor in the corrosion found by the NTSB.

Holloway said this morning that the pipeline was coated with a coal-tar pitch emulsion to isolate the pipe from the corrosive environment of the soil and protected with a type of cathodic protection.

According to retired Exxon engineer Bob Atherton cathodic protection usually involves attaching a sacrificial annode to the steel pipe. "Corrosion works like a battery. There is a current flow in the soil that causes the migration of molecules away from the steel in the pipe. The result is corrosion. A sacrificial annode is a metal that is more easily corroded than the steel of the pipe. In general terms, the annode attracts the current flow to itself, and away from the steel," he said.

Holloway said the pipeline was installed between 1950 and 1952, though the NTSB does not have the full history of the pipeline at this time.

"It's not necessarily consider out of date because of age," he said, explaining there are too many other factors involved.

The NTSB investigators are gathering that information now and will review it after the complete their on-site in next day or so and go back to Washington to continue investigation and conduct lab tests. Holloway added the NTSB still has found no cause for the blast, and it will be months before a report is released.

The El Paso Natural Gas Co. pipe ruptured and exploded early Saturday about 25 miles south of Carlsbad, sending a fireball roaring into the campsite where the group had been fishing.

The blown-out 30-inch-diameter pipe had been buried 5 to 6 feet underground at the blast point. The explosion left a 20-foot-deep crater 85 feet long by 46 feet wide. The pipe is broken off cleanly at one end but is coiled around itself at the other, Holloway said. Three pieces of blown-out pipe, ranging from 3-foot to 22-foot long, were blown away from the hole.

Bobby Smith, 43, of Carlsbad died Monday afternoon at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. His death left just one survivor among the dozen related victims.

Smith's 25-year-old daughter-in

Blast recalls similar explosion for café worker

Staff Writer

PECOS, August 22, 2000 - Saturday's natural gas explosion north of Pecos that took the lives of 11 people was easy to visualize for one area resident, because she and several others came within a few hundred yards of a similar explosion nine months ago.

Martha Chacon, manager of the Salt Flat Café in Salt Flat, 70 miles southwest of Carlsbad, N.M., said she knows what it is like to see such a massive flame like the one that tragically killed 11 members of two families, including five children under the age of six, 30 miles south of Carlsbad on Saturday.

Last year, a similar explosion happened just east of the café that blew two tractor-trailer rigs off U.S. 62-180 at Salt Flat, which is 60 miles west of Saturday's pipeline explosion. The liquid propane line blast injured the two truck drivers, one critically, and set a nearby gasoline pipeline ablaze while shooting flames 150 feet into the air for nearly a day.

The blast shut down the main highway between Carlsbad and El Paso and the land on either side of the highway just east of the Salt Flat Café still bears the scars from the explosion.

Chacon said the people in the café had seen a cloud of "dust" that turned out to be a pocket of gas that leaked out of a nearby pipe. Soon after the customers in the café noticed the cloud the gas ignited and Chacon said turned the cloud into a ball of flames.

"We saw a big torch cross the road," she said. So hearing the news about last Saturday's explosion brought back the memory of the explosion in Salt Flat and reminded Chacon what could have happened.

"When I heard it I thought we were lucky," Chacon said.

Department of Public Safety officials say a spark from a passing school bus was believed to have caused the explosion, though no one on the bus was injured.

The café itself suffered some harmful effects from the fire's radiant heat, which melted parts of the building's roof, but the cafe was far enough away from the explosion to avoid any major damage

Chacon said Saturday's news also scared her because there are so many different gas lines around that an explosion could happen at any time.

"You never know if there is too much pressure in them or what could happen," Chacon said. "Maybe one of these days we would not be so lucky."

Many pipelines running from Texas to the El Paso area travel through the Guadalupe Pass area and then through Salt Flat to the west. Pipelines from Guadalupe Pass travel both south of Red Bluff Lake, and through Reeves County, and north of the lake into New Mexico, where Saturday's explosion occurred.

"There's quite a few of the natural gas lines running through that area," said Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Armando Gil. "We have the map here in the office."

Gil stated that they get at least 50-70 annual reports from the pipeline companies, who tell local officials what they are sending through the lines.

"We have El Paso Natural Gas through our county as well," said Gil.

Saturday's blast involved an El Paso Natural Gas Co. line and was far more violent than the November, 1999 blast near Salt Flat. It killed all but one member of two families that chose to camp and fish at an unmarked but popular campsite on the Pecos River. When the explosion occurred some were fishing along the river's banks while others slept. Officials said the families could not have escaped from the fire that consumed the campsite with a massive flame-thrower.

Chacon said she feels bad for the victims of the recent explosion, especially for the children.

"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said.

Water, trash questions delay budget hearings

Staff Writer

PECOS, August 22, 2000 - Town of Pecos City Council has postponed its remaining budget workshops until Sept. 5 due to a water tax rate study being done now, and negotiations with Duncan Disposal for trash pick-ups.

Finance Director Steve McCormick said Monday the proposed budget is higher than last year's budget because Duncan asked the Council to raise their fees by $120,000. McCormick said a committee would meet with Duncan and negotiate the raise, hopefully lowering the budget.

The committee and a team from Duncan are scheduled to meet next Monday to negotiate Duncan's contract with the city.

McCormick said the city has hired someone to look over information concerning the water tax rate and put together a study for the Council.

The current water tax rate is at $1.70 per 1,000 gallons while the sewer rate is 30 cents per 1,000 gallons.

McCormick said the study would help the Council determine whether or not to raise or lower the water rates.

The Council also discussed Water Superintendent Octavio Garcia's requests for the Fiscal 2001 budget. The Council focused on Garcia's request for about $110,000 to fix a water holding tank close to the river.

Garcia said the tank is in very bad shape and won't last much longer.

Mayor Ray Ortega agreed with Garcia and informed the Council he has seen the tank in question and thinks something should be done about it.

"It's so bad that the roof supports are in the water," Ortega said.

Garcia said simply repairing the damage is not an option because the walls of the tank are so then they could not support a new roof. He suggested moving a new tank close to the damaged one.

Councilman Ricky Herrera suggested purchasing a used tank to save money since that tank would not be used as much when the South Worsham Water Field is completed.

Garcia told the Council he had asked for money to repair the tank for many years but his requests where denied.

"In the future, department heads need to emphasize to the Council what needs to be fixed," Herrera said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Danny Rodriguez asked Garcia to make up a list of priorities for the Council so projects that need to be done right away could get funded.

McCormick informed the Council that he heard of the possibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers being able to work with the city on the construction of the South Worsham Water Field.

"Rumor has it they can help us with that project," he said. McCormick said this morning that he called the number given to him but the person he would need to talk to was not in at the time so he does not know what could be done.

He told the Council if the information was true that would cut down on expenses for the city.

"We could do everything we want to do without drawing all of the $8.3 million," he said, referring to the money the state is planning on giving the city for the purpose of constructing the South Worsham field.

McCormick also told the Council he set up a new South Worsham fund in the proposed budget for the purpose of allowing the money to flow through.

The Council does not foresee any reason to raise taxes other than the delinquent property taxes.

McCormick said the Council raised that tax because the tax collector has done such a good job in collecting the delinquent taxes.

The Council said they do not want to raise any taxes unless they are absolutely necessary. Ortega took a line from former President George Bush by saying "Read my lips, I don't want to and won't raise taxes."

While the Council will not meet again to go over the budget until September 5, they will have their regular meeting at 7:30 a.m., Thursday at City Hall.

TNMP seeking suggestions for projects

Staff Writer

PECOS, August 22, 2000 - Applications for this year's Texas-New-Mexico Power Company Customer Connection program are due Sept. 1. Anyone interested in submitting a project for consideration may obtain an application at TNMP's local office, and complete and return it by the Sept. 1 deadline.

"This program has funded many worthwhile endeavors throughout TNMP's service area," said Mya Griffin, TNMP public information coordinator. "It's one way for TNMP to show its continuing commitment to our communities, and it lets customers have a voice in how the dollars are spent."

The company is willing to fund up to $5,000 per project for qualifying community-based, not-for-profit initiatives. Customer Connection funds come from money customers voluntarily contribute to the program when they pay their bills.

It is pooled together by geographic region and matched dollar for dollar by TNMP. Customer Advisory Groups then help select from the pool of applications from the customer-nominated projects, which then receive the funding for the year.

To learn more about the Customer Connection program, the variety of projects funded or how to receive matching dollars, contact Mya Griffin, at 447-2112, or 1-800-435-2822, extension 323.

Texas-New Mexico Power Company provides community-based electric service to 85 cities and more than 232,000 customers in Texas and New Mexico. It is the principal wholly owned subsidiary of TNP Enterprises, Inc.

Rec department youth volleyball sign-ups continue

PECOS, August 22, 2000 - The Reeves County Community Sports and Recreation Department is enrolling children for its fall volleyball league now through Sept. 1.

Boys and girls entering grades 3 through 6 are eligible to participate in the volleyball league, with a registration fee of $10 per player.

For further information, call the RCCRD office at 447-9776.


Ted Cousins

Ted Dickerson Cousins, 85, of Cleburne, died Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000.

A graveside "Remembrance" will be observed at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the Dickerson family plot, near the Washington Street entrance of Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.

She was born Sept. 22, 1914, in Cleburne and was a former Pecos resident. After a 1938 graduation from Texas State College for Women, she lived and worked in Midland for many years. She returned to the Granbury/Cleburne area in the early 1970's.

Cousins was preceded in death by two sisters, Doris Hart Bates and Mariellen Dickerson Peyton, and one brother, C.D. Dickerson, Jr.

Survivors include one sister, Rebecca Nell Dickerson of Houston; three nieces and two nephews.

The family requests, that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one's favorite charitable organization.

Crosier-Pearson-Mayfield Funeral Home of Cleburne is in charge of arrangements.


PECOS, August 22, 2000 - High Monday 99. Low this morning 72. Forecast for tonight: Mostly clear. Low 65-70. Southeast wind 5-15 mph. Wednesday: Mostly sunny. High 95-100. Southeast wind 10-20 mph. Wednesday night: Mostly clear. Low 65-70. Thursday: Mostly sunny and fair at night. Low around 70. High in the mid to upper 90s.

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