Pipeline Accident Report - Natural Gas Pipeline Rupture and Fire

Near Carlsbad, New Mexico
August 19, 2000

NTSB Number: PAR-03/01
NTIS Number: PB2003-916501
Adopted February 11, 2003
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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 makes safety recommendations to the Research and Special Programs Administration and NACE International.

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the August 19, 2000, pipeline rupture and subsequent fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

To the Research and Special Programs Administration:

Revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 192 to require that new or replaced pipelines be designed and constructed with features to mitigate internal corrosion. At a minimum, such pipelines should (1) be configured to reduce the opportunity for liquids to accumulate, (2) be equipped with effective liquid removal features, and (3) be able to accommodate corrosion monitoring devices at locations with the greatest potential for internal corrosion. (P-03-1)

Develop the requirements necessary to ensure that pipeline operators' internal corrosion control programs address the role of water and other contaminants in the corrosion process. (P-03-2)

Evaluate the Office of Pipeline Safety's pipeline operator inspection program to identify deficiencies that resulted in the failure of inspectors, before the Carlsbad, New Mexico, accident, to identify the inadequacies in El Paso Natural Gas Company's internal corrosion control program. Implement the changes necessary to ensure adequate assessments of pipeline operator safety programs. (P-03-3)

To NACE International:

Establish an accelerated schedule for completion of an industry standard for the control of internal corrosion in steel pipelines that will replace or update NACE standard RP0175-75. (P-03-4)