Abilene, TX Pipeline Workers Overcome By Gas, Dec 1974



Abilene, Tex. -- Six men working to repair a trans-Texas pipeline were killed almost instantly Sunday night about a mile southeast of the Timex plant when the hole they were working in filled with natural gas coming off crude oil.
The site of the accident is about a mile past Loop 322 just off Maple St. The pit is situated in an area of oil storage tanks.
At least two Abilene firemen were overcome by the blue-gray fumes as they attempted to rescue the workers. The firemen were taken to Hendrick Memorial Hospital where they were admitted.
George Anderson, a gauger for the Gulf Refining Co. and local manager on the repair operation, said that he was called on his office radio by R. D. PENNY, one of the seven men on the repair crew, about 5:10 p.m.
"I had just left him at the site with a load of material," Anderson said, "and drove to our office about three blocks away. I made a phone cal, and while I was on the phone, PENNY radioed and said to get an ambulance out there, because some of the men had been gassed."
PENNY later told Anderson that one of the men seemed to slump, and someone yelled that there was gas in the hole.
"He (PENNY) told me that everyone just dropped then, before anything could be done. It was all over in a few seconds," Anderson said.
The dead were identified as:
T. P. RAINS, of Sweetwater.
ROBERT REDMAN, of Sweetwater.
DON WHITE, of Roscoe.
ROBERT ARELLANO, of Colorado City.
CODY COX, of Eastland.
The pipeline, which runs from Midland to Port Arthur is owned by the West Texas Gulf Pipeline Co., a consortium of five oil firms. The Gulf Refining Co., one of the pipeline's owners, maintains the line.
Anderson said the line has a capacity of about 125,000 barrels of crude petroleum per day. He said the line was sealed of at the Colorado City pump station shortly after the leak was reported, and a local valve some miles from the scene was also turned off by Anderson's men.
The line still remained under pressure for some time, however, since it was actively pumping crude at the time of the break.
Anderson said the leak was probably caused by a rust-out, rather than damage from a back-hoe operating at one end of the 15-foot pit.
Five bodies were recovered fom the six-foot deep hole soon after firemen arrived, but officials feared a fire or explosion from the seeping gas, and the sixth body was recovered about an hour later.
A blue haze covered the ground near the pit, and the hole itself was filled with the gas. Fireman at the scene said that the 34-degree temperature and low humidity was keeping the gas in low area.
Anderson said four of the dead men were employed by his firm, one was employed by Browne Bros. Construction Co. of Colorado City, and the other was employed by Moylan Pump Service in Eastland.
"This wasn't a gas pipeline," Anderson said. "It carried unrefined crude oil. All oil is gassy to a certain extent, and this was very very gassy. As it left the pipe and hit the air, the gas separated from the petroleum and settled on top of the oil."
The leak had subsided within an hour after rescue operations had begun, and Anderson was assisted by Martin Pryor, with the Key City Channelmasters CB Club, and Don Browne, of Browne Bros. Construction, in dragging the pit with grappling hooks for the sixth body.
Firemen working in the pit were only able to say in the gas for less than a minute at a time, and were hindered in their efforts by the blue haze. Most emerged from the pit gagging and were given oxygen.
"This is the worst thing I have ever seen," Browne said at the scene. "I knew all of those men well, and I just can't believe this has happened."

Abilene Reporter News Texas 1974-12-02