Blast destroys equipment, building

Photo courtesy of deputy Holland Town Marshal Paul Voegerl Jr.
Holland’s fire department was called to the scene at 6:49 p.m. Monday to the report of an explosion at Huntingburg’s natural gas storage field southwest of the city that destroyed the plant’s dehydration unit and a 30-by-50 building that housed it.

By BILL POWELL
Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — An Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator has ruled that a Monday evening explosion at Huntingburg’s natural gas storage field southwest of the city that destroyed the plant’s dehydration unit and a 30-by-50 building that housed it was accidental in nature.

“Anything that was in that building is gone,” said Fire Chief Greg Englert of the Holland Volunteer Fire Department.

No one was injured and no evacuations were required.

Englert estimated that the dollar value of the loss could be around $100,000, but Huntingburg Energy Superintendent John Reutepohler said it was closer to $50,000 given that the dehydration equipment dated to the 1980s.

The only other item in the building was an old diesel engine that had once been used to inject gas into the field, Reutepohler said. It was taken out of service three or four years ago. Huntingburg had been in the process of slowly abandoning the field since last summer.

A neighbor living south of the 416-acre field at 8570 S. 500W, south of County Road 750S, reported the explosion. Holland’s fire department was called to the scene at 6:49 p.m.

Englert said fire units staged back until Huntingburg Municipal Utilities’ gas personnel shut valves that were feeding natural gas to the dehydration plant area. Once that was done, Englert said, firefighters moved in and extinguished the remnants of the burning building.

Monday’s explosion and fire was the first incident at the field that anyone could remember. An investigation at the scene today ruled out arson, Englert said. It is likely that an electrical problem existed and that, coupled with some type of gas leak in the gas-drying system, triggered the explosion.

A media release from the City of Huntingburg indicated gas service to the city was not affected but local customers near the facility were without service until about 9:20 p.m.

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Smoke plumed into the air following an explosion at Huntingburg’s natural gas storage field southwest of the city that destroyed the plant’s dehydration unit and a 30-by-50 building that housed it.

Holland’s department responded with four trucks and 11 firefighters. The Dubois County Sheriff’s Department, the Huntingburg Police Department, the Dubois Rural Electric Cooperative and Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services assisted.

Reutepohler lauded Monday’s response, beginning with the Holland fire department’s quick arrival. Reutepohler said Holland firefighters coordinated with the Dubois County Sheriff’s Department to get the area closed off. The fire department then kept its trucks at a safe distance until Huntingburg gas personnel could shut off valves at the field and at the intersection of county roads 500W and 750S that were feeding a fire that shot flames 20 feet into the air, like a big blow torch.

Regular maintenance is done to all of the city’s valves and an incident like the explosion drives home why it is important to keep them all in good repair, Reutepohler said, adding that  the response “really worked well.”

Huntingburg’s natural gas storage field, created in 1991, was a way for the city to purchase and store natural gas when market prices were low to offset high prices during peak use in winter months. But advancements in technology and the discovery of new natural gas fields brought down the price of gas and kept costs more stable.
Utilities Superintendent Tony Traylor had gone on record as saying that, taking into account gas prices, labor, land-lease agreements, materials, permits and other factors of operating the field, Huntingburg had lost an average of about $26,500 per year operating the field since 2001.

The cost of keeping up with government regulations and replacing components was about to cost Huntingburg more than $190,000 when, last July, council members voted to abandon the field.

Reutepohler estimated today that, since the council’s decision, about half the gas Huntingburg had stored had been removed from the field. The city was probably three or four months away from closing up shop at the site. Gas would have been drawn down to a point of low pressure and then a company would have been called in to extract and compress the remaining gas  and haul it away in tanker trucks.

After Monday’s explosion, the two lines feeding the city from the site were capped. Gas from the storage field will never again enter Huntingburg’s system, according to Reutepohler.

Huntingburg will now work with a consultant to determine the most cost-effective way to proceed with abandoning the field. Reutepohler said that may entail contracting with a company that could bring a portable dehydration unit to the site to extract the remaining gas.

“We’ve got to explore our options with what to do with the remaining gas in the storage field,” Reutepohler said.

Herald Staff Writer Alexandra Sondeen contributed to this report.

Contact Bill Powell at bpowell@dcherald.com.





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