Shelby County residents near pipeline incident debate on oil and gas industry growth

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Shelby County residents are debating whether the growth of the oil and gas industry is good for the county or not.  That's after authorities spent Saturday night evacuating a half-mile area south of Center, when they heard a nearby gas pipeline had exploded.

Working with the pipeline company, Enbridge, it took around 90 minutes to re-open Highway 7 to residents and drivers.

Bryan Sumpstine, his wife and four kids spent Saturday night in a Center motel after being evacuating from their Aiken community home.

"A state trooper came and pulled into the driveway and told us we needed to evacuate," said Sumpstine.

That's because around 8:30 PM, natural gas started spewing from a pipeline right across the street.

"I got a call we got a pipeline explosion," said Shelby Co. Sheriff Newton Johnson.

After speaking with the pipeline company, they began evacuating residents within a half-mile of the site.

"You get out pretty quick. You don't know if its explosive gas or poisonous gas or what kind of gas it is," said Sumpstine.

It was the sound that startled Benny Bright at his family's store on Highway 7.

'I'd compare it to like a flat tire or something or a tire going flat - you could hear it," said Bright.

The pipeline site is located right across the street from a school and only feet from homes.

Even though pipeline officials determined it wasn't an explosion, but instead what they call a pop-off valve going off, Sumpstine is still concerned with the growing oil and gas sector so close to home.

"There's nothing really good about it. I work for the oil and gas industry, but I don't want it in my home or in front of my house," said Sumpstine.

Bright, however, felt differently.

"We got to have the economy here going, so I have no problem with it," said Bright.

Sheriff Johnson agreed.  He says they were able to fix the pipeline valve quickly, and people were able to come back home.

"I do believe the companies Shelby County is dealing with are taking every precaution possible for the safety of the citizens and the people working for them," said Johnson.

He believes the economic growth has helped everybody in the county, and says they're prepared to handle any danger if it comes.

An Enbridge area manager told Sheriff Johnson about three thousand million cubic feet of natural gas escaped when the pop-off valve went off.

If they had not been able to cut it off as quickly as they did, an even larger area of homes would have been evacuated.

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