Explosion? Fire? Must be an oil and gas disaster

Bob Tippee

Ignorance and suspicion frolic again at the expense of oil and gas.

On the morning of July 25, an explosion and fire in Dallas shut down two busy interstate highways. News reports, apparently starting with an Associated Press story, attributed the blast to liquefied natural gas.

Well into the afternoon, for example, the web site of the Dallas NBC television affiliate was reporting this: "Explosions at a liquefied natural gas plant Wednesday morning injured three people and shut down Interstate 35E and Interstate 30 near downtown Dallas, forcing evacuations within a half-mile."

The facility that blew up was an acetylene distribution center owned by Southwest Industrial Gases Inc. LNG played no role.

As mistakes go, this one's a whopper. But the chance that initial reports might have been wrong didn't forestall opportunistic publicity-seeking.

"This morning's Dallas liquefied natural gas plant explosion is another incident in a long line of recent oil and gas infrastructure disasters," began an afternoon press release pitching interviews with "an expert in oil and gas facility/pipeline safety and maintenance."

Such an expert might be expected to question news of an LNG explosion in Dallas.

But the prospective interview subject had no chance to apply constructive doubt. William Schutt, founder and president of MATCOR Inc., a corrosion engineering firm in Doylestown, Pa., didn't see the press release that offered his expertise while parroting false reports in the context of multiple oil and gas "disasters."

"We were being proactive on our end and went with what we saw in the AP story," explained Matthew McLoughlin, senior account executive of Gregory FCA Communication, Ardmore, Pa., source of the release. Alerted to the error by Warren True, Oil & Gas Journal chief technology editor and editor of LNG Observer, "I sent a correction immediately," McLoughlin said.

Corrections eventually found their ways into news accounts of the explosion, too. Future hearings on LNG terminal siting will show how effective they were.

Here's betting that somewhere, some project opponent will brandish the Dallas LNG explosion that never happened—which was, after all, just one of those oil and gas disasters everybody expects.

(Online July 27, 2007; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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