Pipeline Accident Report

Natural Gas Pipeline Rupture and Fire

Carlsbad, New Mexico
August 19, 2000

NTSB Number PAR-03-01
NTIS Number PB2003-916501

Executive Summary:

At 5:26 a.m., mountain daylight time, on Saturday, August 19, 2000, a 30-inch-diameter natural gas transmission pipeline operated by El Paso Natural Gas Company ruptured adjacent to the Pecos River near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The released gas ignited and burned for 55 minutes. Twelve persons who were camping under a concrete-decked steel bridge that supported the pipeline across the river were killed and their three vehicles destroyed. Two nearby steel suspension bridges for gas pipelines crossing the river were extensively damaged. According to El Paso Natural Gas Company, property and other damages or losses totaled $998,296.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the August 19, 2000, natural gas pipeline rupture and subsequent fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico, was a significant reduction in pipe wall thickness due to severe internal corrosion. The severe corrosion had occurred because El Paso Natural Gas Company’s corrosion control program failed to prevent, detect, or control internal corrosion within the company’s pipeline. Contributing to the accident were ineffective Federal preaccident inspections of El Paso Natural Gas Company that did not identify deficiencies in the company’s internal corrosion control program.

The major safety issues identified in this investigation are as follows:

  • The design and construction of the pipeline,
  • The adequacy of El Paso Natural Gas Company’s internal corrosion control program,
  • The adequacy of Federal safety regulations for natural gas pipelines, and
  • The adequacy of Federal oversight of the pipeline operator.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board made safety recommendations to the Research and Special Programs Administration and NACE International.