Software, technology, sysadmin war stories, and more. Feed
Friday, April 19, 2013

My first earthquake was caused by people

There's some seriously messed up stuff in the news this week. One of the bigger stories is a fertilizer plant which exploded in Texas. I don't know how to break this to people, but this kind of stuff is not as rare as you might think. To support this claim, I present a story of my own "spectator level" involvement in a different blast from many years ago.

Tuesday, April 7, 1992 probably started like any other morning. I probably did whatever I normally did to get ready for the day, and that included sitting down and having breakfast. Then, partway through my breakfast, the entire house started shaking. The windows were rattling in their sills. The roof was making "bumping" sounds. Nobody knew what to make of it.

We turned on the radio and heard the same thing from a bunch of DJs. They had all heard or felt something, too. One of them said it "sounded like someone was running around on the roof at the station". Nobody knew what had happened, but it was clear it had basically affected the entire city... of Houston. Yes, it was a big place, and lots of people felt whatever it was.

Later that day, everyone started hearing what had happened. There had been a leak of liquefied petroleum from a pipeline near a salt dome storage facility outside Brenham. All I knew about Brenham back then was happy cows and Blue Bell ice cream, but apparently they had a whole bunch of petrochemical storage stuff going on, too.

This leak had been ignited somehow, and the resulting explosion sent out a groundwave that made my house rock and roll in Houston... 70 miles away. Apparently people could hear it 140 miles away.

News reports put this man-made earthquake at between a 3.5 and a 4 on the Richter scale, which is what they were using at the time. I guess, in that sense, it was my first earthquake.

A "20 years later" followup from last year tells the story far better than I could.

I've talked to other people who lived in the state back then, and possibly were even rattled by it, and have discovered they don't remember this event. I guess some things are better left forgotten.

For those interested in surveying the area as it exists now, don't try to use the crossroads given in the news stories. The road names seem to have changed. Instead, just look at this address: "9800 Oil Field Road Brenham, TX 77833". It still shows up as "Seminole Pipeline".

If you have any doubt, just switch to a map which shows property lines. That long, skinny parcel cutting from west to east through that whole area sure says "pipeline" to me.