Cause being investigated; Injured child released from hospital
STOCK TWP. –Black smoke still rose from the charred remains of two homes and a barn Tuesday, following a gas explosion Monday that injured two family members, both of whom have now been released from the hospital.
The remains were all that was left next to the scorched ring of earth, displaying orange clay after vegetation burned away after the Monday morning explosion in Noble County.
The Noll family homes, at 54895 Smithberger Road, were still smoldering Tuesday morning as the sun rose over the glittering snow to the east of black scorch marks.
Lt. Nick Noll, of the Summerfield Volunteer Fire Department, his wife Brittany and his father Larry were the owners of the homes.
Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the couple’s son, 12, and the boy’s grandfather were the people injured. The family had a second child who was not harmed.
“The little boy was treated and released from Marietta Memorial and a second resident not in the same household also had a small burn but was treated and released,” confirmed Noble County Emergency Management Agency Director Chasity Schmelzenbach Tuesday. “The incident destroyed two homes on the family’s farm, damaged a third home and two to three outbuildings were also destroyed.”
Summerfield Volunteer Fire Department posted on its social media Monday evening that the department’s community appreciation dinner planned for Saturday will now funnel donations to the Noll family as they look to rebuild from the tragedy.
But Tuesday, the closest any car could travel to the rural farm area was Horton Hollow, a township road to the south of the homes, and Bean Ridge Road to the north and east.
“That easement where the transmission lines pass through has two more transmission pipes which need to be decompressed,” explained Schmelzenbach. “So even the company that owns the lines has pulled its people out of there until that decompression can occur.”
Enbridge, the gas line company which owns the 30-inch diameter pipe that exploded Monday, had security crews out of Michigan blocking the road as company representatives arrived on site 24 hours after the initial explosion occurred.
“We have a team out there assessing the safety of the site,” said Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes midday, noting that a 700-foot precautionary safety perimeter near the incident site would remain in effect with the road closed.
Barnes also released a statement from Enbridge’s senior leadership Tuesday, noting the company will continue working with the state’s public utility commission, fire marshal, department of natural resources and environmental protection agency to investigate the incident.
“On behalf of Enbridge, I want to express our concern for the two individuals who were injured, as well as all those affected by this incident,” said Enbridge Executive Vice President Bill Yardley in the statement. “We thank the first responders for their efforts and we are working closely with them and other local officials to restore the incident site safely.”
On an adjacent ridge Tuesday, the sightline of the damage showed a grizzly scene.
“I’ve got a son that’s on the Lewisville (Volunteer) Fire Department, he was there yesterday,” said Frank Christman, of Lewisville, when he took a drive up Bean Ridge Road through the Noble and Monroe county line Tuesday to look at the damage.
“I have a son and a grandson working for Antero and this kind of spooked my wife yesterday,” he said. “But I told her that if it’s a gas pipeline they wouldn’t have been anywhere around it.”
Christman still remembers when the gas line was put in. He was a child back then, and later in the 1960s he even worked on gas pipelines.
“That line was put in between 1952 and 1953,” he recalled. “I was born in 1947, and I can remember when Texas Eastern put the last one in in 1957. That was a 36-inch, they started in the 1940s. But they haven’t done anything in these wells since. They check them and if there’s a knot in it they just dig it up, wrap it and put it back in.”
But Christman also recalled a similar explosion last year north of Summerfield, which other residents in the area said is now making them nervous.
“And I remember when the one blew closer to Dexter City (in 1984) and I felt that one too, it shook the ground and then you could just hear it whistling,” he explained. “I could hear the same whistling yesterday, now nothing will grow on that, they’ll have to haul out dirt… man, oh, man.”
In February 2018 a 24-inch Seneca Lateral operated by Tallgrass Energy blew in a remote field along Ohio 513.
“Of course with any transmission of fuel there’s an inherent risk,” noted Schmelzenbach. “But statistically pipelines are the safest way to transport rather than by rail or road.”
She said air quality testing was occurring Tuesday, and additional sampling of soil and the pipe which blew will continue into the coming weeks.
“This line was put down in the 1950s and I know it was not a cast iron line but it’s also not a modern line either,” Schmelzenbach explained, noting the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio will lead the investigation into what happened, supported by the other state agencies and Enbridge. “But we would not expect to have a full disposition of everything until they provide a full report, that’s usually at least four to six months out.”
On Tuesday a telephone company was also out taking photos of the site from afar, dispatched to determine if underground lines ran through the area and both state representatives and Ohio Oil and Gas Association representatives made it out to the county by the afternoon.
National environmental groups added a call for a decommissioning of all pipelines in the area.
“Unfortunately all we got yesterday was the runaround and were never told if the Ohio EPA was even on site doing air sampling,” said Cheryl Johncox, an organizer with Beyond Dirty Fuels and the Sierra Club. “There are many studies showing that when these lines burst and unprocessed gas is released there are also known carcinogens released.”
Johncox said air sampling and health monitoring in the surrounding area is paramount to not only tracking potential heart and respiratory problems but also cancer-causing toxins and in pregnant women a higher risk of low birth weight and birth defects.
But Schmelzenbach cautioned those in the area to not make hasty judgments or give in to rumors.
“Instead I’d encourage people to have an awareness of what’s running through their property lines and to read the packets the companies that own those lines send out,” she said. “Those tell you the symptoms and things to look out for if there could be a break or leak and they give you the phone numbers to call in an emergency outside of 911. Open that envelope and read it, instead of treating it like junk mail.”
She said Enbridge is already working with the Noll family to ensure needs are met while insurance and settlement issues are sorted out.
• Smithberger Road, between Horton Hollow and Bean Ridge Road in Noble County, will remain closed to through traffic for the foreseeable future as the investigation by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio looks into the cause of a gas pipeline explosion that took place Monday.
• The investigation will include air sampling, soil sampling and an analysis of the pipe, which burst on the Noll family farm.
• Enbridge, the company which owns the gas line, is cooperating with the state agencies investigating the incident and is providing security for the site while two adjacent gas lines are depressurized this week.
Source: Noble County Emergency Management Agency and Enbridge.