KNIFLEY, Ky. — An underground transmission pipeline carrying natural gas exploded early Thursday in southern Kentucky, sending two people to the hospital, destroying two homes and alarming residents who saw flames from miles away.
The explosion happened about 2 a.m. in a hillside about 100 feet off the road and left a crater 60 feet wide, Adair County Emergency Management Director Greg Thomas said.
People said they "saw the fire in the sky," Thomas said.
Both of the injured people were treated and released, Kentucky Emergency Management spokesman Buddy Rogers said. The two were in the same home when they were hurt, though only one suffered burns, Thomas said.
A third home was damaged along with four or five vehicles.
About 20 homes within a few miles of the blast site were evacuated, Thomas said. The flames were extinguished by late morning, and residents would be allowed back into their homes in the afternoon, he said.
The explosion occurred in the community of Knifley, about 100 miles south of Louisville near the Green River Lake Wildlife Management Area.
The 30-inch pipeline, which was about 20 feet underground, is owned by Columbia Gulf Transmission. The company said in a news release that gas flow to the damaged pipeline was stopped and trained crews have been sent to work with emergency responders to secure the scene.
"We don't yet know the cause but will be working with the appropriate authorities to conduct a thorough and complete investigation," the release said.
The explosion brought fresh fears to some residents who are opposing a pipeline project that is securing land in several north-central Kentucky counties. The Bluegrass Pipeline project would stretch about 180 miles through the state and carry flammable natural gas liquids to a connector that leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
"I think this is just a wake-up call for Kentucky that our legislators need to do something about this," said Cindy Foster, who lives near the pipeline's projected path in northern Scott County. Opponents have asked the Kentucky General Assembly to clarify eminent domain laws so the pipeline developers cannot condemn land without consent from landowners. Several bills addressing the issue have not moved out of House and Senate committees.
Officials at Williams Co., one of the companies behind the Bluegrass Pipeline, have said that their pipeline would be safe for nearby residents.
The Adair County explosion Thursday caused a drop in pressure in the pipeline, known as Line 200, that was detected at 2:05 a.m. by operators at Columbia Gulf Transmission, according to a media release.
A different section of Line 200 that passes through Estill County ruptured in January 2012, sending flames into the air and evacuating about 30 families. No one was injured.
Columbia Gulf Transmission is part of the Houston-based Columbia Pipeline Group, which has about 1,400 miles of pipelines operating in Kentucky. A company spokeswoman on Thursday said the two fires along the same pipeline system "does not mean that the pipeline facilities or circumstances are comparable."
Spokeswoman Katie Dupuis Martin said officials are working to confirm the age of the pipeline that ruptured on Thursday.