West Virginia gas pipeline explosion – just a drop in the disaster bucket
The West Virginia gas pipeline explosion follows several high profile natural gas accidents and a rapid increase nationally in pipeline mileage – even as federal oversight appears to lag.
The fireball explosion Tuesday of an interstate natural gas transmission line in West Virginia, which left behind a huge jet of flame that burned for more an hour and melted four lanes of I-77, is just one of scores of accidents and explosions involving natural gas lines this year, federal data show.
Despite the magnitude of the explosion and fire, preliminary reports were that all persons were accounted for with no injuries, said a member of theNational Transportation Safety Board, which is charged by Congress with investigating pipeline as well as airline, railroad and other transportation accidents.
An NTSB team was in Sissonville, W.V. at first light Wednesday, examining evidence at the accident site.
Robert Sumwalt, a safety board member, told reporters at an initial press briefing late Tuesday that the NTSB team would not speculate on causes of the explosion, but would collect evidence and interview witnesses, including the operators of the pipeline, Columbia GasTransmission company, a subsidiary of Houston-basedNiSource Gas Transmission and Storage.
But whatever cause eventually emerges, the dramatic event in Sissonville is set against a backdrop of several high profile natural gas accidents and a rapid increase nationally in gas pipeline mileage – even as federal oversight appears to lag.
"There are never enough inspectors at the state or federal level to adequately cover all the pipelines," says Rebecca Craven, program director at the Pipeline Safety Trust, a watchdog group based in Bellingham, Wash., that monitors energy pipelines of all types. "They can't physically spend enough time with each operator or pipeline to be able to do a thorough job and conduct regular inspections. They do what they can – enough to comply with their requirements."