At least two key NTSB recommendations not included in the latest legislation would improve the way pipeline operators check the integrity of their pipes.
One recommendation is to eliminate a "grandfather" provision that exempts older pipelines from the requirement for hydrostatic testing. Such testing is time-consuming and expensive because pipelines must be taken out of service for the tests.
The other would require all pipelines to be built so they could be tested by so-called "internal line inspections," using devices with built-in cameras and sensors. Changes in pipe diameter and sharp turns and curves can make this testing difficult. Only about 70 percent of the nation's pipelines are currently suitable, officials said.
A third NTSB recommendation not included in the legislation would have required more frequent use of automatic or remote shutoff valves, technology that could have reduced the amount of gas that fueled the fire if it had been in place on the Sissonville line.
Among other things, the GAO study is to focus on risks and benefits of automatic and remote shutoff valves, the swiftness of leak detection and pipeline shutdown capabilities, and the location of the nearest response personnel.
Under Rockefeller's leadership, the Senate committee held three hearings in 2010 and 2011 that focused on pipeline safety. Pipeline safety was mentioned, but was not a major issue, during a previous field hearing Rockefeller convened last year in Fairmont to discuss development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.