WENY News - SENECA LAKE SHOWDOWN: Hutchinson Kansas Explosion

SENECA LAKE SHOWDOWN: Hutchinson Kansas Explosion

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HUTCHINSON, KANSAS (WENY) -- With underground gas storage, you have pros and cons. For the city of Hutchinson, they know the negatives all too well. Back in 2001, the city suffered a series of explosions and geysers that popped up without warning.

Bill Wilson was a reporter for The Hutchinson News during the disaster. He recalled January 17th, 2001. That's when the first explosion happened. Wilson was just a couple of blocks away when he heard the explosion, "It was a very distinctive sound is the way I would describe it, you know it wasn't a boom it was more of a whoomph, a loud magnified whoomph sound if that makes any sense."

After realizing what happened, Wilson sprang into action, he said, "I heard that sound and immediately grabbed a -pad and a pen and jumped up and yelled gas explosion and went running for the door."

The explosion demolished the Party Decor building, causing two injuries.

After the explosion, officials shut off the utilities thinking the fire was being fueled a natural gas line, but the fire continued to burn.

Shortly after, geysers starting popping up around the city.

Dick Heitschmidt, the Hutchinson Police Chief, said the whole ordeal was one of the busiest times of his career, "It was just everybody was running helter skelter trying to cover everything that was going on and then try to start figuring out where the fuel from this fire was coming from."

On January 18th, another explosion rocked the city.

A mobile home was destroyed. The explosion killed 2 people, Johnny & Mary Hahn.

Officials starting to desperately look for the cause of the explosions, and the geysers.

The answer to Hutchinson's problem was found right outside of the city limits. 

The source of the explosion was traced by to Yaggy field, which was roughly 7 miles away from the site of the first explosion. Natural gas that leaked from the underground salt cavern traveled to Hutchinson, and rose through old brine or salt wells.

Wilson covered the story extensively after the explosions, and the court litigation afterwards. Wilson said, "The court found that, the legal process found that too gas much had been put into Yaggy field, in that particular cavern in Yaggy field that had a badly leaking supply pipe."

Yaggy field is now closed, but there's a proposal to re-open it in the future.

Compared to the proposed gas storage at Seneca Lake by Crestwood-Midstream, there's several important differences. For example, in Kansas, the explosion was caused by natural gas. Whereas the Seneca Lake project involves LPG. The disaster involved a completely different company, plus regulations were much different 16 years ago.

Brad Bacon, the Vice President of Crestwood-Midstream spoke about the differences between their proposed project and Kansas.

Bacon said, "It's just a night and day difference frankly on safety features, testing, whether its data and real time monitoring, they over pressured the field is my understanding as well, so you don't have a series of 16 pods the way that field was operated, you have one well and one cavern, here at our site and so there are fundamental differences, it's just hard to get into all of them,"

He adds, "If would rather to have an apples to apples conversation. Because if you look at Hutchinson as an example, a lot of that permitting and design and framework of the storage field, the way it was operated, was prior to substantive operation by the state (of Kansas). You have some human error, it was avoidable, and so you start looking and going OK, what are the lessons learned from that incident. And it was, I think in the late 90's/early 2000's. The state of New York has a very comprehensive framework, that deals with a very problems that existed with that Yaggy storage field in Kansas. And so you build a better mousetrap in terms if the regulatory framework, the experience, the expertise that the geologists have on the state and federal levels, and you learn what redundancies and safety features to build into the projects that they problem didn't think about, or probably ignored in the absence of regulation, you know, back 20-30-40-50 years ago."

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