Are anarchists trying to tear up the infrastructure of Arkansas and Oklahoma by sabotaging natural gas pipelines? This is one conspiracy theory making the rounds on the internet after natural gas line explosions near Piedmont, Okla., and Fort Smith both happened around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Arkansas Oklahoma Gas (AOG) states the two incidents are not connected, but an investigation is still underway. The gas line near Piedmont, 230 miles from Fort Smith, is owned by a different company; Denver-based DCP Midstream and we'll be looking for their investigation results as well.
Although the physical damage was minor and thankfully no one was seriously injured, the more damaging impacts from the incident could be the resulting conspiracy theories that link in the Black Lives Matter movement. But if Antifa and Communist Chinese funding sources are also involved with the incidents, like the theorists are saying, they sure picked weird targets. Certainly, it gave us a scare though.
Here is the damage report: A couple of gas lines busted and some road damage; a few trees and hay bales burned; backed-up traffic for a couple hours on Massard and Zero. Our photographer, Brian Sanderford, almost got a bad case of chiggers walking through high grass to get a photo. I twisted my ankle walking down the same area on Skyline Road to get pics and information.
No one seems to be sure exactly when the fire started in Fort Smith and when the explosion happened near Piedmont, but they were both generally around 9 p.m. AOG states a Fort Smith police officer noticed a small fire while driving by the AOG station at 9:20 p.m. Oklahoma news stations report the explosion near Piedmont happened shortly before 9 p.m. Some have reported as early as 8:30 p.m.
It is also coincidental an OG&E power line snapped on Royal Ridge Drive in Fort Smith, about a quarter mile away from the AOG gas line right before the fire at Massard and Zero. My wife heard the loud noise right before 9 p.m. as I was moving laundry over from the washer to the dryer. I didn't hear what she heard — sounded like a car hitting our neighbor’s house, she said — but it may have coincided with me closing the dryer door. I just recall hearing a weird noise outside right after that, like a low roar. I thought it was just my tinnitus.
OG&E, our power company, says the power line and the gas line fire are not related. I’ll take their word for it — for now, but will continue to watch the investigation and ask questions until we are confident we know what happened.
Other coincidences with this case: Brian Sanderford and I are neighbors in the area of the gas fire and electric line snap. Our market leader, Ronald Benner, also lives nearby. There sure are a lot of coincidences here. And that’s how conspiracy theories get started. The next thing you know, the Times Record will be to blame because we were having a slow news day. I assure you, I would not know the first thing about how to sabotage a natural gas interconnection station. And I would not do it anyway because my clothes dryer is hooked up to it.
Thankfully no one was seriously hurt and there was no major damage. If there is one thing to learn from all of this, I'm reminded to be very careful of what I read out there. It can be fun sometimes to ponder the possibilities of what really happened, but we owe it to ourselves to think in a sensible and realistic way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. We are awaiting the results of the investigation. Whether it was a system failure or foul play, we will report it once we find out.
John Lovett is the regional editor for Gannett newspapers in west Arkansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.