Feds: Obama pipeline legislation works to improve safety - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Feds: Obama pipeline legislation works to improve safety

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The State Journal file photo / Firefighters from throughout the region respond to a gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville in December. The State Journal file photo / Firefighters from throughout the region respond to a gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville in December.
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It's been a year since President Barack Obama singed into law the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act. And despite accidents, including the Dec. 11 explosion of a natural gas transmission pipeline near Sissonville, the U.S. Department of Transportation is celebrating the law's successes.

"We know that domestic energy production and pipeline investments are up and will likely continue to grow," said Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in a USDOT blog post. "The Pipeline Safety Act gives us the tools to stay ahead of this shifting demand."

In the year since the legislation became law, PHMSA has initiated several rules to improve the way pipeline operators manage the integrity of gas and liquid pipelines. To make rules more effective, PHMSA produced a multi-chapter webinar to educate the pipeline community about the latest integrity management requirements, according to the blog post.

The law, which was supported by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., requires PHMSA to develop safety standards that require operators to install automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves and excess flow valves on pipelines. The Sissonville pipeline did not have such shut-off valves, and it took about an hour after the initial rupture for officials to stop the flow of gas and shut off the line.

"These valves can play a critical role in shutting off the flow of material and stopping leaks," according to the blog post. "In 2012, PHMSA studied those valves in preparation for issuing new standards."

The Sissonville pipeline that exploded last month is owned by NiSource subsidiary Columbia Gas Transmissions. It was first installed in 1950, according to a corrective order PHMSA issued to Columbia on Dec. 20. Since the line was first installed, various segments have been replaced, resulting in a line with various vintages of pipe, the newest of which was installed in 1992.

PHMSA is pressuring operators to upgrade their lines with modern, safer materials and has created a publicly accessible online database to track progress in replacing worn-out or old pipe, according to the blog. In compliance with the law, PHMSA has updated it regulations with newly-increased maximum civil penalties for pipeline operators who violate safety rules.