According to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman, the infrastructure for the entire gas transmission system in West Virginia and many other parts in the country are running on 50-year-old technology. Hersman spoke at before a Congressional field hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee at the Federal Courthouse in Charleston in response to the December 11 pipeline explosion in Sissonville that destroyed four homes, damaged several others and melted a huge portion of Interstate 77 near Charleston. The explosion was triggered by a 20-inch ‘antiquated’ line owned by NiSource subsidiary Columbia Gas Transmission, and Hersman says the current system in place lacks leak detection systems; which could have averted the explosion.
An NTSB investigation revealed the pipeline which ruptured and exploded was installed in the 1960s and the walls of the pipe had deteriorated to a dangerously thin level. And pipelines like the one that ruptured exist all over West Virginia. Many state residents stumble across these kinds of pipelines from hiking, ATV recreation, hunting or doing home improvements involving digging or excavating. And if a leak or rupture did occur, they would know not where to start or who to notify.
The first thing residents should do is become aware of how to detect gas pipelines or to protect themselves from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines or who they should contact. A new, federally-mandated national "Call Before You Dig" number, 811-has been created to help protect people and provide toolkits towards pipeline awareness
Many believe gas companies have stretched the current infrastructure to its capacity, and with the drilling of the Marcellus Shale, more gas is being transported and pipeline safety including infrastructure is long overdue. NiSource representatives stated at the hearing that improvement is on the way in the form of a $5 billion system-wide upgrade of its transmission system. But these improvements may just be the beginning of what is actually needed as the rush for shale gas continues to grow. And the explosion that occurred in Sissonville may be just a starting point that recognizes the need of developing a new industry that focuses solely on higher safety and Inspections of a dilapidating infrastructure.
Sources: WCHSTV; WV Gazette