Following the deadly pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) Friday called on the head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to beef up the oversight of the interstate gas pipelines that feed into Pennsylvania's intrastate distribution infrastructure.

"I realize that the tragic event in Allentown falls under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, which has responsibility for the inspection and safety of our intrastate gas distribution lines. However, I continue to be concerned that the [Department of Transportation's] PHMSA has not allocated sufficient staff and resources to inspect and maintain the 7,500 miles of interstate pipelines that feed natural gas into Pennsylvania's intrastate distribution system," he wrote in a letter to PHMSA Director Cynthia Quarterman.

"Moreover, I am very concerned that PHMSA's grants program that assists state agencies in carrying out pipeline safety programs, including covering the cost of personnel and equipment, is underfunded," Casey said. "I strongly urge PHMSA to ensure it has sufficient funding and staffing level to adequately inspect the nation's interstate gas pipelines, particularly with regards to its interconnection with Pennsylvania's intrastate pipeline system."

Five people were killed Wednesday in the explosion of the underground gas line, owned by utility UGI Corp. (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11). Allentown Police Chief Roger MacLean said the epicenter of the explosion was at the home of Beatrice Hall, 74, and her husband, William, 79, who were killed. A four-month-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a 69-year-old woman also were killed on the block where the explosion occurred.

A fire following the explosion affected a total of 47 properties, including 10 businesses, and forced more than 750 people to evacuate over a three-block area.

"This is another in a long list of natural gas line-related accidents in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania in the last decade," Casey said. "This tragic event again underscores the concerns I raised in a Sept. 22, 2010 letter to the [PHMSA] about the safety of both our interstate and intrastate pipeline systems. There are more than 7,500 miles of interstate and 63,000 miles of intrastate transmission and distribution pipelines crisscrossing Pennsylvania," he said.

Prior to the explosion on Wednesday, the PHMSA issued a bulletin advising owners and operators of petroleum and natural gas facilities of the need to take the appropriate steps to prevent damage to pipeline facilities from accumulated snow or ice. "Past events on natural gas distribution system facilities appear to have been related to either the stress of snow and ice or the malfunction of pressure control equipment due to ice blockage of pressure control equipment vents," it said.

©Copyright 2011 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.