CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The NiSource natural gas pipeline that blew up in the Sissonville area last week was constructed in 1967, according to new federal records that contradict the company's earlier statements to local officials.
Local officials had said NiSource told them initially that the pipeline dated back to only the 1990s, in which case it would have been subject to more stringent federal requirements.
However, a U.S. Department of Transportation order, dated Thursday, says the "affected pipeline at the failure location was constructed in 1967."
The finding supports new comments from Kanawha County officials, who said NiSource gave them updated information this week revealing that the line dated back to the 1960s.
"It was an older pipeline," said C.W. Sigman, the county's deputy emergency services director.
Conflicting initial reports about the pipeline's age would not have come as a surprise to federal officials, who have found similar problems in previous investigations. And even in the early stages of their investigation of the Dec. 11 blast, officials are seeing similarities to other gas pipeline incidents around the country.
In an interview earlier this week, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said initial findings -- including the lack of automatic or remote shutoff valves on the line -- illustrate broader problems facing the nation's 2.5 million miles of pipelines.
"I think we've seem some common themes in Sissonville that we've seen in other accidents," said Hersman, who was a staffer for former West Virginia congressman Bob Wise. "We have seen the same things over and over again in our investigations around the country."
Hersman said the NiSource explosion was a near-miss accident that easily could have caused "fatalities and a number of serious injuries."
"What we've found -- the extent of the corrosion that our investigators found when they were on the scene -- was alarming," Hersman said.
A 10-member team of NTSB investigators found that the pipe that blew up was only 0.078 inches thick -- about 30 percent as thick as it should have been.
"We do not expect to see that type of wall loss in a pipeline that is operating in a high pressure, carrying hazardous materials," Hersman said. "We want to understand how the pipe got to that level of corrosion and why it was not identified."
The NTSB has said the blast occurred on a 20-inch-diameter natural gas transmission line. Several people received minor injuries, several homes were destroyed and the ensuing fire engulfed and damaged a large section of Interstate 77 north of Charleston.
Officials from NiSource subsidiary Columbia Gas Transmission have generally refused to answer questions about the incident.
Columbia CEO Jimmy Staton did issue an "open letter" saying that "something went terribly wrong" at the pipeline and that his company would work with the NTSB to find out what happened and "take every step necessary to ensure the continued safety of our pipeline system."
On Friday, new information about the age of the pipeline involved in the blast surfaced, with the public release of an order from the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, outlining required repairs before the pipeline can be used again.
The PHMSA order said the line in question -- known as SM-80 -- was originally built in 1951 from Lanham to Broad Run, and was extended in 1955 to Leach.
"Since that time, various segments of the pipeline have been replaced, resulting in a line with various vintages of pipe, the newest of which stems from a 1992 project," the order said. "The affected pipeline pipe at the failure location was constructed in 1967."
During a media briefing the day after the explosion, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt declined to answer when asked what the agency's investigators had learned so far about the age and specifications of the pipe that exploded.