Coming two months after the explosion on the Columbia Gas Transmission system in West Virginia, the state’s House of Delegates Thursday voted out and sent to the Senate legislation that would raise the penalty per violation from $1,000 per day to $200,000 per day for pipeline safety violations.

The legislation (H.B. 2505), which cleared the House by a vote of 91 to 7, also would raise the maximum civil penalty for a specific incident from $200,000 to $2 million. The measure was advocated by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“Any civil penalty may be [adjusted]” by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC), according to the measure. “In determining the amount of penalty, or the amount agreed upon in compromise, the commission shall consider the appropriateness of the penalty to the size of the business of the person charged, the gravity of the violation, and the good faith of the person charged in attempting to achieve compliance after notification of the violation,” the measure said.

Pipeline safety violators may not recover their penalties in their applications for rate increases before the PSC.

The 20-inch diameter Columbia Gas line, which is owned by NiSource Inc., ruptured on Dec. 11, destroying at least five homes and closing down a nearby interstate highway for nearly a day (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12). There were no fatalities and no major injuries.

Both the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) and the National Transportation Safety Board agreed that pipeline wall thinning may have significantly contributed to the rupture near the pipeline’s Lanham Compressor Station in the rural community of Sissonville, WV, which is about 15 miles north of Charleston (see Daily GPI, Jan. 17). Parts of the pipeline have been taken to NTSB’s headquarters in Washington, DC, where the investigation is continuing.

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