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Defects found in pipeline point to LCY in Kaohsiung blasts
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-08-03 08:06 PM
Investigators from the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office (KDPO) say they have found indications of problems with a four-inch pipeline owned by LCY Chemicals Corporation. The pipeline is the center of attention as officials seek the cause of the gas leak that ripped up long stretches of streets in Kaohsiung Thursday night, killing 28 persons at last count and injuring nearly 300. One point that has caught the attention of investigators is that the line used by LCY to transport propylene was found running inside a storm drain laid down by the Kaohsiung City Government.

One businessman in a petrochemical company commented that if such a line is maintained properly it should be free of corrosion and intact even after 20 to 30 years of use. If not properly maintained, however, says the businessman, it is hard to say what decades of exposure to rainwater and whatever the water carries with it might do to the pipes.

Investigators questioned representatives of LCY, China Petroleum Development Corporation (CPDC), China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and China General Terminal and Distribution Corporation (CGTD) Sunday regarding their lines in the area and conditions in their systems during the time leading up to Thursday night’s blasts. LCY, which is being eyed as the principal suspect in the case, is preparing a press release for the Taiwan Stock Exchange and also held a press conference in Kaohsiung Sunday.

Chen Chin-der, head of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the Kaohsiung City Government, said Sunday that during a critical two-hour period a leak in a gas transmission line is suspected to have discharged some 10 tons of propylene into the ground under streets in downtown Kaohsiung. Chen said that work records seized from LCY indicate that its line may have been the source of the leaked gas.

In addition, said Chen, an inspection of the work logs, communications records and other data from LCY indicates that officials of the company "knowingly failed to inform relevant authorities of an abnormal situation" when a drop in pressure in the line was detected.

Chen noted that at present much of the area where the explosions occurred Thursday night still has undetermined amounts of the volatile gas.

He explained that records show that at 9:30pm the evening of Thursday, July 31, LCY informed its supplier CGTD to halt transmission after a drop in line pressure was detected. LCY later told CGTD to resume transmission without having determined the cause of the pressure drop, allegedly leading to accumulated gas that caused the series of explosions.

Chen said investigators examining pipeline networks in the area have discovered a number of holes and patches in lines and have not ruled out the possibility that one or more of the points in question may have caused a leak that led to the explosions Thursday. Investigators probing culverts in the area have found three suspicious points in the underground pipelines but say that at the time of the explosions only one was being used to convey gas – the pipeline owned by LCY.

He noted that three suspected points of explosion are all located near areas where some of the most serious damage occurred. The first point is next to the Precinct Police Station on Yi-xin First Road, the second is at the intersection of Kai-xuan Third Road and Er-sheng Road, and the third is near San-duo Precinct Police Station on San-duo First Road.

Chen disclosed that LCY work logs show that between 8:50 and 9:45pm, pressure in its line dropped from 42 kg 13 kg per square centimeter, and at 10:10pm the company called for delivery of the gas to resume without having first determined the cause of the drop in pressure.

Chen said the pressure drop was first noted at 8:43pm but later in the evening transmission was allowed to continue for 2 hours, during which time 10 tons of propylene are suspected to have leaked from the system. If the company had taken timely action to inform the outside world and seek the source of the leak, he said, the entire tragedy might have been averted.

Chairman Lee Wei-mou of LCY held a press conference in Kaohsiung shortly after media reports began circulating at noon that the Kaohsiung City Government had identified LCY as the culprit in the explosions. Lee noted that investigation is continuing and he is not free to comment on what happened until it has been completed. Until then, he said, LCY will release whatever information it is allowed to disclose to the public.

Lee stressed that currently excavations in the culvert are being carried out at the request of the prosecution and he is not free to comment on what is happening.

He pointed out that LCY stands ready to carry out any remedial measures necessary in the future and will present relevant facts when it is possible to do so for the enlightenment of the public.

Lee and several of his fellow officers in the company bowed following the press conference to express their condolences to the public for the losses of life and property in the explosions. Lee said he wishes to express his sincere apologies to the public and pledged that LCY will not attempt to evade any responsibility it may bear in the incident.

Lee stressed that the company is not hiding anything and will cooperate fully with authorities. He emphasized, “No one is more anxious than I am to determine the cause of this incident.”

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