But NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman explained that her agency has recommended actions that go beyond what's mandated by the new law. NTSB, for example, wants all pipelines to be configured to allow for in-line "pigging" inspections. The NTSB also has recommended that all pipelines located in "high consequence areas" -- where people, property or the environment could be seriously damaged by accidents -- be equipped with automatic or remote shutoff valves.
Kessler said that his group supports the NTSB proposals.
"For years we have talked about the need for more miles of pipelines to be inspected by smart pigs," Kessler told lawmakers. "We have pleaded for clear standards for leak detection, requirements for the placement of automatic shutoff valves, closing the loopholes that allow a growing mileage of pipelines to remain unregulated, and for better information to be available so innocent people will know if they live near a large pipeline and whether that pipeline is maintained and inspected in a way to ensure their safety."
Testimony during Monday's hearing revealed that the pipeline that exploded in Sissonville had not been classified as being located in a "high consequence" area, even though two nearby pipelines were classified that way. Under existing federal rules, only pipelines in such areas are mandated to even be considered for automatic or remote shutoff valves.
Jimmy Staton, executive vice president of NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage, said his company is replacing aging pipelines, expanding in-line inspection capabilities, and making a variety of other improvements as part of a $2 billion, five-year program to increase safety and service reliability.
"I fully believe industry is responsive," Staton said. "We are responsive above and beyond the requirements."
But Staton told the committee that the Sissonville line that blew up would pose a "challenge" for installation of automatic or remote shutoff valves, because it has so many connections to other pipelines that complicate the use of such equipment.
Susan Fleming, director of physical infrastructure issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, testified that her agency's examination of the issue showed that automatic and remote shutoffs should be considered "on a case-by-case basis" because of a variety of advantages and disadvantages "specific to a unique valve location."
But Kessler, of the Pipeline Safety Trust, said that industry lobbyists have opposed mandating that pipeline operators study the use of automatic or remote shutoff valves on all of their lines, and then making the results of such studies -- including the decision of whether or not to install the equipment -- available to the public.
"It's really starting to ring a bit hollow" for the industry to fight such a requirement, Kessler said. "Somehow we find it acceptable that an industry can use 1960s technology in 2013."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.