Human Error cited as cause in 2017 Illinois natural gas pipeline explosion

Published: Dec. 5, 2017 at 10:26 PM CST
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UPDATE 7/10/18: Federal officials say human error was the cause of a northern Illinois natural gas pipeline explosion last year that killed two men and left two others seriously injured.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says workers operating a tiling plow ruptured the pipeline, causing the explosion. At the time of the explosion in December, the workers were installing drainage tile.

The investigation determined the owner of the land did not contact the Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators before beginning the tiling project.

The Millers had farmed the leased land for decades.

ORIGINAL UPDATE: The victimshave been identified as follows:


Rory Miller, age 59 of Amboy

Ryan S. Miller, age 30 of Oregon

Critical Condition at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Rockford:

Michael Koster, age 20 of Sterling

Treated and Released from St. Anthony’s:

Kyler Acklund, age 20 of West Brooklyn

ORIGINAL STORY: Farmers like Brent Riewerts do not usually think twice about pipelines in their fields.

“I’ve grown up with pipelines essentially in my backyard,” he said.

But then you hear a story like Monday mornings out of Lee County, Illinois.

“You know when you see flames 4-500 feet in the air as you’re crossing (pipelines) with a chisel plow, you kind of wonder in the back of your mind if you hit one,” Riewerts said. “There’s not going to be much of you left.”

According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, farmers near Nachusa off of Route 84 were doing some tiling work in the fields around 9:00 a.m. Monday when they hit a pipeline.

“A tractor pulling a tiling plow became stuck,” explained Sheriff John Simonton at a press conference Monday afternoon. “Efforts were made to free the tractor with another tractor. At this time the second tractor began to lose traction. Preliminary indications of the accident indicate that a large explosion occurred upon the accidental striking of a natural gas pipeline resulting in fire engulfing the scene.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration website, transmission pipelines must be buried 2.5 feet below the surface in rural areas. Its website goes on to say pipelines must be buried further down in more populated places.

“Now normally your chisel plow depth might only be 12 to 14 inches at most,” Riewerts said of everyday farm tasks. “You don’t worry about it being too shallow. Not enough ground cover over the top, but when someone does hit it once in a while it kind of makes you wonder like how did this even happen.”

But tiling is not a day to day farm activity.

“We’ve done that before where we had some tile lines you know we called Julie 811 or whatever and they usually have a rep come out,” Riewerts said.

“It’s technically against the law to be digging anywhere in the vicinity without calling Julie,” he added.

Based on the information released so far by the Lee County Sheriff’s Department it is unknown if there were pipeline experts notified before and on scene during Monday’s accident.

The explosion did involve four people. Two of those people died, the other two were injured. One of those injured was in critical condition Monday night.