By CLINT FOSTER
The City of Mineral Wells dodged a bullet when a gas line was ruptured in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
According to multiple sources, a city Public Works crew was attempting to repair a broken water main when they inadvertently struck a high-pressure, compressed natural gas line between 4 and 6 inches, leading to precautionary evacuations in the immediate area and a day-long repair project.
The saga began with a report of a water leak in the 900 block of SW 2nd Avenue at around 2:15 a.m., Wednesday morning.
Mineral Wells Public Works Director Kelly Jones said one of his crews went to the site promptly and called in “emergency line locates,” who found and marked the main gas line around 6 a.m.
The crew used a backhoe to dig down beside the ruptured water main, missing the exposed gas line, when Jones said they hit an unmarked polyethylene gas line the locator had not found.
A plume of gas and water shot into the air as high as 50 feet, according to Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan. Jones said he could see the spray from his office at 1301 South Oak, almost half a mile away.
“You could see it blowing up above house lines,” Jones said. “It was all vapor. It was a high-pressure gas line.”
After the break, MWPD and the Mineral Wells Fire Department were notified and responded to the scene. Sullivan said the police cordoned off a two-block area around the leak and firefighters evacuated two homes adjacent to the rupture, a third home 30 yards to the east and notified nearby Houston Elementary School while all waited for the Texas Gas Service to arrive and close the line.
Mineral Wells Interim Fire Chief Michael Pool said his firefighters went into Houston Elementary with gas monitors as a precaution to make sure nothing harmful was in the area. Children were already in school at this time, but, based on protocols laid out in the Emergency Response Guidebook, Houston Elementary was on the edge of the buffer zone.
“They weren’t in any danger,” Pool said. “If we had a shift of wind, we might have had to extend the evacuation, but everything went smoothly. We wanted to make sure we did all we needed to do to keep everyone safe.”
Sullivan said favorable atmospheric conditions meant the natural gas was mostly contained and presented no real danger.
“Natural gas is different than some of the propane concerns,” he explained. “Propane is a heavier gas and sits lower to the ground.
“This compressed natural gas tends to rise up. With favorable atmospheric conditions present, (Pool) decided there was no immediate threat (of explosions) to school.”
Meanwhile, the gas company arrived around 8 a.m. and spent the rest of the morning trying to repair the gas line and restore service to affected residences.
The gas line had to be repaired before Public Works could get back on the job of fixing the water main which resulted in a lot of affected homes in the area.
Jones said he was not sure exactly how many people were affected by the loss of gas or water. However, he, Sullivan and Pool all confirmed there were no injuries or fatalities as a result of the broken gas line.