DRY CANYON, Carbon County — Two men who suffered burns when a natural gas compressor station exploded Tuesday are lucky to be alive, according to the deputy state fire marshal who investigated the incident.
"We were able to locate the area where they were located when the explosion occurred, and essentially if they had been in any other part of the compound, (the explosion) probably would have killed them," Troy Mills said.
"They were behind one of the buildings, and the building protected them," he said.
The explosion and fire injured Larry Joseph, 62, of Vernal, and Doug Jenkins, 31, of Roosevelt. Jenkins was listed in fair condition Wednesday at University Hospital, while Joseph remained in critical condition.
Investigators from the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining and the Carbon County Sheriff's Office joined Mills at the compressor station in Dry Canyon on Wednesday to try to determine what led to the explosion.
Evidence at the scene showed that a natural gas pipeline on the property had sustained undetected damage and ruptured when a pressure spike inside the pipeline occurred about 9 a.m. Tuesday, Mills said.
"A 12-inch, high-pressure gas line had been damaged at some point by a backhoe," Mills said. "You could see score marks along the top of the pipe where the backhoe teeth had rubbed on the top of the pipe and scored the pipe.
"That was the weak link, and when the pressure surged, the pipe failed and basically tore open," he said. "It looked like an aluminum can."
When the pipe ruptured, it blew a 30-foot wide by 15-foot deep crater in the ground, and directed a stream of pressurized natural gas into one the compressor station's buildings, Mills said.
"The gas basically shot into that area, found an ignition source and exploded," he said.
The station, located in the Nine Mile Canyon area about 20 miles east of Price, is operated by Bill Barrett Corp., an oil and natural gas exploration and development company.
Jim Felton, spokesman for the Denver-based company, said damage from the explosion was limited to the Dry Canyon site, and it is not believed that any hazardous materials were discharged beyond the blast area.
The two injured men work for the company, Felton said, and were the only employees at the plant when the blast happened. The plant was built in 2002, he said.
There is no fixed number of employees who work at the plant.
"Some days we could have a dozen people out there. Some days, no one," Felton said.
That was one of the major concerns Tuesday, he said, as company officials tried to ensure that everyone at the site was accounted for.
Mills said Joseph and Jenkins reported that they witnessed the crater form when the gas line broke and "saw rocks starting to fly."
"They went and shut the equipment down, and then started to try to evacuate when the explosion occurred," Mills said.5 comments on this story
Fred Barrett, chairman, chief executive and president of Bill Barrett Corp., called the past two days "a very difficult time for all of us."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with our injured colleagues for their speedy and complete recovery from the injuries suffered from the fire," he said.
The compressor station is located in the company's West Tavaputs gas field in the Uinta Basin of northeast Utah, where three stations are located. It sustained "extensive damage" in the blast and will require substantial repairs before it returns to operation.