The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a field hearing on pipeline safety in Charleston, WV, on Jan. 28 following a major natural gas pipeline explosion in the state in December.

The hearing will examine the nation’s pipeline infrastructure in the wake of the rupture near Columbia Gas Pipeline’s Lanham Compressor Station in the rural community of Sissonville, WV, which is about 15 miles north of Charleston. The 20-inch diameter Columbia Gas line, which is owned by NiSource Inc., ruptured on Dec. 11, destroying at least five homes and closing I-77 for nearly a day (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12, 2012). There were no fatalities and no major injuries.

The Senate forum panel also will evaluate the Department of Transportation’s implementation of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, which was signed into law in January 2012 and was based largely on legislation cosponsored by Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia (see Daily GPI, Jan. 4, 2012).

Moreover, the committee hearing will review the findings of a Government Accountability Office study, expected to be released on Jan. 23, on the ability of transmission pipeline facility operators to respond to a hazardous liquid or gas release.

“This will be the fourth Commerce Committee hearing on the serious issue of pipeline safety in nearly three years. Passing comprehensive pipeline safety legislation last year was a good first step, but I did push for even stronger provisions in that bill — and we must assess where implementation of that law stands, and whether future actions are needed,” Rockefeller said.

In late December, the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety issued a corrective action order against Columbia Gas Transmission (see Daily GPI, Dec. 26, 2012). “OPS observed general wall thinning on the underside of the affected pipeline at the failure location. OPS has preliminarily concluded that general wall thinning is a major factor in the cause of the failure,” wrote Jeffrey D. Wiese, associate administrator for pipeline safety, in the order. The affected pipeline section was built in 1967, OPS said.

The order found that operation of the pipeline without corrective action would be “hazardous to life, property or the environment and requires [Columbia Gas] to take immediate action to ensure the safe operation of the pipeline.”

The wall thickness of the section of pipe that ruptured was significantly deteriorated, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded as well in early in December (see Daily GPI, Dec. 17, 2012). The NTSB has taken parts of the ruptured pipe to its offices in Washington, DC, to be studied more closely.

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