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Tomblin celebrates new gas pipeline law

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. -- Saturday marked five months since an explosion in a Columbia Transmission Corp. gas pipeline in Sissonville destroyed four homes and melted part of Interstate 77.

On Monday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Kanawha County officials held a ceremony Monday to acknowledge the state's new pipeline safety law.

Tomblin signed the bill into law April 29, but held a symbolic bill signing at 10:30 a.m. at the new Sissonville fire station on Call Road.

The law increases the penalty for gas pipeline safety violations from $1,000 a day to $200,000 a day, with a $2 million cap. Tomblin said the increase brings the penalties in line with federal legislation.

The new law came after the Dec. 11, 2012, explosion, which caused a fire that raged for more than an hour.

"It's not here to punish a company," Tomblin said of the new law. "But this is a real incentive to companies to make sure these [pipeline] inspections are done."

Federal officials have yet to release a report on whether there were any safety violations connected with the Sissonville explosion and fire.

State Public Service Commission Chairman Mike Albert said he hopes the federal report on the Sissonville explosion will be finished within the next few months.

Albert also said the 20-inch pipeline in Sissonville could reopen later this week.

According to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Columbia Transmission has had 16 pipeline safety incidents since 2010, five in West Virginia. In the same period, the company has paid almost $325,000 in penalties. The Sissonville explosion remains under investigation.

Companies that own pipelines are supposed to check them regularly, but that doesn't always happen. Tomblin hopes the stiffer penalties will help convince owners of pipelines to inspect them more frequently.

"We've got to do a better job with companies inspecting their lines," he said.

He also said the new fine structure could help pay for additional PSC inspectors, who also inspect pipelines. He said there are currently only five inspectors to cover thousands of miles of pipeline in the state.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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