Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the impact of growing shale oil and gas development on the nation’s rail and pipeline infrastructure.

In a letter to GAO Friday, Rockefeller wrote that the “boom in domestic shale oil and gas production has raised questions about the ability of existing infrastructure to safely transport these hazardous products, and the capacity of safety standards as production increases.”

He noted that the deadly train derailment in Quebec this month and a December 2012 pipeline explosion in Sissonville, WV, have raised concerns about potential gaps in safety standards. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the Columbia Gas Transmission blast in Wast Virginia, but thin wall thickness of the pipeline and a pressure drop are seen as the contributing factors (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2012).

The Senate panel had a hearing on rail safety in June, during which Rockefeller called on witnesses to consider current rail safety policies and possible improvements that could make rails safer. It also had a field hearing on pipeline safety in January.

GAO is in the process of providing Rockefeller with a comprehensive review of the freight rail safety regime, which he requested in August 2012.