Branscom addresses butane leak at Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt County Emergency Management Director Tim Branscom (above) held a news conference Monday at noon to address the problems resulting from a pipeline gas leak near U.S. 54/400 Highway on Sunday evening. Emergency workers and law enforcement shut down the highway to all traffic overnight and into the next day, turning all vehicles coming out of Pratt around at 30th Avenue and sending them through the cement mixing station there and back to Pratt to find an alternate route. Eastbound traffic at Greensburg was also halted until late Monday afternoon, when only local traffic was allowed to travel on the old highway 54.

When Pratt County Emergency Management Director Tim Branscom stepped up to give a news conference at noon on Monday, January 27 at the cement mixing station west of Pratt, he had already been dealing with the fallout from a cross-country pipeline leak for 18 hours. The butane leak, detected at 6 p.m. Sunday evening, was noticed by an Enterprise Pipeline company remote employee when pressure dropped in an area between Greensburg and Pratt.
A large crater, located about 100 yards south of U.S. Highway 54/400, was created by a rupture in a 10-inch pipe that travels north to south below the highway about 7 to 8 miles west of Pratt. Gas to the line was immediately shut off, but as it takes time to close off a high-pressure line, continued vapors in the area created a dangerous situation that could have exploded if ignited.
"That's why we shut down traffic through that area," Branscom said. "We didn't want to have any cars, trucks or trains going through the area that could throw a spark and cause an explosion.
Branscom said it took about 10 hours to completely get the valve shut on the pipeline, and he and other emergency workers had not even been close to the rupture to see the extent of damage done because of safety reasons.
More than 20 residences in the area were evacuated and electrical power was shut off to lesson the danger of low-hanging gases, particularly in low-lying areas. High humidity and lack of wind kept the gases stationary in the area until a breeze finally picked up early Monday morning.
"We had Cullison Fire Department firefighters, Pratt County Sheriff officers, KDOT employees, gas-line company employees, City of Pratt Police, and others on scene all night monitoring gas levels and keeping traffic out of the area," Branscom said.
Barricades and road blocks remained in place at U.S. 54 and 30th West, as well as at various side roads in the area. Many side roads are dirt and sand and not conducive for heavy traffic, so anyone trying to avoid road blocks by taking an unprescribed detour was discouraged from doing so throughout the day on Monday. By 1 p.m. Old Highway 54 was opened for local traffic and those evacuated were allowed to return to their homes after they had been cleared by officials with gas detectors.
A time-line has not yet been established as to when the U.S. Highway 54/400 will again be opened to regular traffic. Rotating crews from several area emergency and law enforcement agencies continue to man barricades and prevent vehicles from driving in the area. Trains were also stopped or rerouted from Union Pacific lines between Greensburg to Pratt.