Natural Gas Company In West Virginia Explosion Has Deep Record of Pipeline Safety Violations

Dec 13th, 2012 | By Mark | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Explosions

NatGas Consulting

The company that owns and operates the natural gas pipeline that exploded in West Virginia earlier this week has a lengthy history of pipeline safety violation and incidents, according to records obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org.

The company that owns and operates the natural gas pipeline that exploded in West Virginia on Tuesday has a lengthy record of pipeline safety violations and federal enforcement actions, including several recent incidents in West Virginia, according to documents obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org.

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According to records obtained from the federal Pipeline and Hazard Materials Administration, the Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. (CGT Corp.), which owns and operates the pipeline that exploded in an enormous fireball near Sissonville, West Virginia, earlier this week, has been involved in 14 separate natural gas pipeline safety incidents since February 2011, including five in West Virginia.

Columbia is a wholly owned subsidiary of NiSource, one of America’s largest energy companies.

One of these incidents, on Aug. 25, 2012, in Elyria, Ohio, sent four people to the hospital with serious injuries. Together, the 14 incidents accounted for nearly $1.5 million in property damage.

According to the PHMSA records, nine of the 14 incidents were caused by equipment failure or corrosion, including the most recent incident, which occurred on Oct. 30 in Flat Top, West Virginia, which involved a malfunction of controls related to relief equipment.

In Tuesday’s blast, which sent flames shooting 100 feet into the air, melted a section of Interstate 77 and destroyed four nearby homes, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said, it took Columbia more than an hour to isolate the section of the pipeline where the explosion occurred and shut off the flow of gas to the pipeline.

During the same time period, PHMSA opened 11 separate enforcement actions involving alleged pipeline safety violations by Columbia. Five of those investigations are still underway. PHMSA is currently seeking more than $250,000 in civil penalties in connection with the investigations. The CGT Corp. paid a fine of $67,800 in connection with one investigation, in which the agency cited the company for failing to continuously monitor the concentration of gas in the air at the Claysville compressor station in Pennsylvania.

Damon Hill, a spokesperson for PHMSA, explained the difference in the number of incidents compared to the number of enforcement actions, saying that not every pipeline incident triggers an enforcement action.

“Every incident is investigated,” Hill told NaturalGasWatch.org, “but not every investigation results in an enforcement action.”

You can check out raw video of the explosion, taken by someone who lived near the blast, here:

You can see the latest statement from the NTSB on the investigation into the cause of the explosion here:

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3 Comments to “Natural Gas Company In West Virginia Explosion Has Deep Record of Pipeline Safety Violations”

  1. Mike Holmstrom says:

    You think Columbia has got their money’s worth on that uncoated, non cathodic protected pipeline that was installed in 1928, using the old, weak dresser coupling technique? What about that uncoated pipeline installed in 1948 elsewhere? That line averaged 4.3 leaks per pipeline mile for 1948 to 2002. At least PHMSA ordered them to fix that line.

  2. Mike Holmstrom says:

    Uh oh, serious wall thinning found on this pipeline:

    http://www.58wchs.com/includes/news_items/7/news_items_more.php?id=49741&section_id=7

    ” In day two of the investigation into Tuesday’s natural gas pipeline explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board team is continuing to learn new things about the blast.

    The 10 member NTSB team conducted a thorough examination of the explosion site Thursday and discovered a six foot section of pipe that had areas where the wall thickness was very thin.

    “Along these areas where the pipe wall thinning was noticed, the thickness of the pipe was .078 inches thick,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. “That’s less than a tenth of an inch .”

    To put it in perspective, Sumwalt mention that in some of the areas of thinning, there was approximately a 70% loss in wall thickness.

    At the time of Thursday night’s briefing, Sumwalt said their are many factors that could cause this thinning to occur and they were currently trying to figure that out. “

  3. Mike Holmstrom says:

    It has now been revealed that this particular pipeline could not run what are known as smart pigs:

    http://www.dailymail.com/News/201212170174

    ” Pipeline safety advocates have argued smart pigs are a key way to ensure the structural integrity of pipelines.

    “I think those are kind of the gold standards for measuring corrosion,” said Carl Weimer, head of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Wash.-based group devoted to improving pipeline safety.

    Following a deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., the NTSB recommended all gas transmission pipelines be upgraded to accommodate smart pigs, with priority given to older pipelines.

    According to a recent NTSB report, 61 percent of the nation’s pipelines cannot physically accommodate pigs and it could cost companies about $12 billion to retrofit the nation’s pipes to make them do so. “

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