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NTSB: Faulty Planning Led to Fatal Pipeline Strike in Corpus Christi

propane
The explosion and fire from the pipeline strike (Image courtesy USCG)

Published Dec 7, 2021 3:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a set of findings and recommendations stemming from the fire and explosion aboard the cutter suction dredger Waymon Boyd in Corpus Christi in August 2020, which killed five and injured five more. The board's final investigative report is still pending. 

The Waymon Boyd struck an underwater 16-inch propane pipeline while dredging a berth area on the inner ship channel in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 21, 2020, resulting in an explosion and fire. 18 personnel employed by Orion Marine Group were aboard the dredge and nearby assist boats. Three crewmembers aboard the Waymon Boyd and one on an adjacent anchor barge died in the explosion and fire. Six crewmembers aboard the dredge were injured, one of whom later died from his injuries. The Waymon Boyd was written off as a total loss with a cost of $9.5 million. The pipeline damage came to another $2.1 million. 

NTSB concluded that the pipeline was struck by the Waymon Boyd’s cutterhead, resulting in a breach and gas release. Although the Waymon Boyd's leverman attempted to swing the dredge away from the geyser of water and propane, the vessel was less than 200 feet away from the pipeline breach, and the expanding gas cloud quickly enveloped it. Investigators concluded that propane gas vapor was drawn into the Waymon Boyd’s engine room by vent fans, leading to ignition and an explosion. 

The NTSB found that the probable cause of the accident was Orion Marine Group’s inadequate planning and risk management processes, which "failed to identify the proximity of their dredging operation to Enterprise Products’ pipeline TX219." In addition, the board concluded that dredging plans provided by a consulting engineering firm were "deficient," resulting in incomplete information provided to the pipeline operator before the accident. If those documents had been more detailed, the planning discussions would likely have triggered Enterprise's pipeline protection protocols, NTSB found.

NTSB called for industry bodies and federal regulators to improve guidance and training on pipeline protection during dredging operations, including "tolerance zone guidance" for dredging work near pipelines. In addition, NTSB called for more coordination between dredger operators and pipeline companies, beyond the basic requirements of the "call before you dig" process. 
 
“We have seen time and time again that tragedies happen when parties fail to have the appropriate policies and procedures in place for safety,” said Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Orion Marine Group’s inadequate planning led to this tragic event and cost lives.