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How Unregulated Pipelines Caused an Explosion in a Texas Home, Killing a 3-Year-Old

In the United States, there are no regulations for the type of pipeline that devastated the Tercero family and so no one violated any rules.

On Aug. 9, 2018, a pipeline with a dime-sized hole caused a deadly explosion in a mobile home near Midland, Texas, killing a three-year-old girl and seriously injuring her family.

The hole resulted in a small leak in a pipeline only a few yards away from the Tercero family’s mobile home filling the house with raw natural gas. When Mrs. Tercero opened the dryer to finish doing laundry, it caused an immediate explosion, severely burning the family of four.

Now a report from E&E News details how the federal government fails to regulate pipelines in rural areas which resulted in disasters like the pipeline explosion that killed three-year-old Delaney Tercero.

The Texas Leaking Pipeline and Explosion

After firefighters pulled three-year-old Delaney out of the debris, a helicopter flew her to a burn center in Lubbock, about 100 miles away. Meanwhile, responders rubbed burn cream on younger sister Delayza’s burns.

Despite the swift flight to the burn center, Delaney was in critical condition. Just two days later, she died.

The Tercero family’s next-door neighbor, Ronnie Littlefield, recently surveyed the rubble in his neighbor’s yard. He told E&E News: “Those poor people there. I don’t know how anybody survived.”

Although they suffered severe burns, Delaney’s sister and parents survived the explosion. As E&E reported, when state inspectors investigated the explosion site, they learned the pipe had been leaking for “an undetermined length of time.” They also discovered that the anti-corrosion covering on the pipeline was “compromised.”

Lack of Federal and State Regulations in Texas

But in the United States, there are no regulations for the type of pipeline that devastated the Tercero family and so no one violated any rules. Because of this, Targa Resources Corp., the $9.6 billion company that owns the line will not be penalized for the explosion.  In fact, Targa officials have no obligation to report the details of the explosion under current regulations. Furthermore, Targa failed to submit an accident report when requested to do so, according to records obtained by E&E.

The Targa pipelines are known as “gathering lines.” This type of pipeline is typically small and takes both gas and oil from wellheads which are the production sites to the processing sites.

The U.S. government’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) (part of the Department of Transportation), the “pipeline safety watchdog,” does have guidelines for about 18,000 miles of the gathering lines. However, 439,000 miles of pipeline are not regulated because they’re considered “rural gathering lines.” Placed end to end, the unmonitored sections of pipeline could wrap around the Earth at least 17 times.

Individual states are allowed to decide whether they monitor gathering lines; most states don’t. The U.S. government doesn’t. The largest gas- and oil-producing state, Texas, does not oversee these lines.

According to E&E’s report, in 2013 Texas Legislature passed a law that allows the Railroad Commission of Texas to monitor gathering lines. Unfortunately, there is insufficient funding to implement the law. The Railroad Commission would need an additional 25 employees, which would cost about$1.8 million a year, according to spokeswoman Ramona Nye.

Unregulated Pipelines Put People at Risk

Reports of injury and even death have surfaced from Texas to Pennsylvania, where there are parts of the network of thousands of miles of pipes. There are virtually no state or U.S. regulations or oversight on these gas lines from construction to maintenance.

The pipeline that exploded the Tercero home runs through Ronnie Littlefield’s yard. He told E&E, that the blast from the explosion hurled debris on his roof and blew out his windows, even at 180 away from the incident. Thankfully, Littlefield and his wife were at work during the explosion.

“It’s too bad that innocent people get hurt and killed,” Littlefield said. “It bothers me. I think it bothers everyone.”

Just two weeks after the explosion, E&E found that two more people died because of gathering line incidents near the Permian Basin region. In July, two additional pipeline incidents killed two people and injured several more. There have been more gathering line incidents in the past year.

Since the explosion at the Tercero home, family members have helped transport Delayza, Delaney’s younger sister, to and from treatment and surgery. The family is suing Targa for the explosion.

Featured Image: Delaney Tercero (right), 3, died at the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas after a pipeline explosion in her home. (screenshot via YouTube)
Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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