This tractor drove through a hurricane fence and hit the above-ground equipment on an Enterprise Products pipeline Monday morning near Baldwin's Yokely Road.

Courtsey Allison Vaughan and the St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office

'All it would have taken was a spark'; St. Mary was lucky during pipeline leak

Monday’s pipeline break near Baldwin spewed a large but unspecified amount of flammable gas into the air, closed two schools, forced residents from about 50 homes, shut down several businesses, brought out every fire department in the parish, blacked out Franklin and stopped traffic on one of rural Louisiana’s busiest highways.

St. Mary Parish’s homeland security director believes the area was lucky.

“All it would have taken was a spark,” Director Duval Arthur said Monday afternoon.

No one was hurt and no immediate reports of property damage were received after a farmer accidentally hit a hurricane fence and a piece of above-ground pipeline apparatus sometime before 7:30 a.m. near Baldwin’s Yokely Road.

The 8-inch pipeline is owned by Enterprise Products Partners. Spokesman Rick Rainey said the pipeline is part of Enterprise’s Promix Gathering System and transports ethane and butane.

Large plumes of white gas billowed from the leak.

“It blew for two hours before they got it shut off,” Arthur said.

The potential for disaster surrounded the broken pipeline:

--Gulf Craft LLC, a shipyard, is across a farm field from the site of the pipeline break. One bit of luck was that no one was welding at Gulf Coast, a shipyard, Arthur said. Gulf Craft and Metal Shark, just across U.S.90 from Gulf Craft were evacuated.
U.S. 90 was closed in both directions.

--A Cleco electrical transfer station is about 200 yards from the leak site, Arthur said. The utility closed down the station, shutting off power in Franklin. That forced the closure of Franklin High and LaGrange Elementary.

“Thank goodness the (Franklin Foundation) hospital had generator power and the courthouse had generator power and a few lucky businesses that had generators were able to stay open,” Arthur said.

The 50 homes nearest the pipeline leak were evacuated, affecting something like 100 people, Arthur said. An evacuation shelter was set up at the Franklin Recreation Center on Hospital Boulevard.

The emergency drew representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Quality, Louisiana State Police and the LSP hazardous materials unit, the St. Mary Sheriff’s Office, the Coast Guard, the Franklin Police Department and fire departments “all the way from Amelia to Jeanerette,” Arthur said.

“We had enough firetrucks there that if it had exploded, we could have fought the fire,” he said.

By 12:30 p.m. Monday, the highways were open again and the power was back on, Arthur said.

The only remaining activity related to the leak was by Enterprise, which was cleaning out the affected portion of pipeline in preparation for repairs. An investigation will be conducted, and that will be the way the public learns how much flammable gas was released into the air.

For Arthur, the pipeline leak may have been a last roll-out as homeland security director for the parish. He’s set to retire in nine days.

“We train for this every year,” Arthur said. “You know what? This is the first (pipeline leak) we’ve ever had.

“It’ll jar your insides.”

Zachary Fitzgerald contributed to the reporting for this story.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the name of Gulf Craft.)

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