Tuesday's stunning gas line explosion along Interstate 77 seemed to literally come out of nowhere, but it didn't. When you get beyond the surreal images of melted guardrail and a sky full of fire, Americans actually see gas line explosions with some regularity:
As the Gazette's Ken Ward Jr. reported, Congress passed a gas pipeline safety law in 2002 following several deaths. In January, President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. It was based in part on a separate bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller. It increased penalties for safety violations, required automatic shut-off valves on new pipelines and makes safety information available to the public.
Like so many safety laws, the trick seems to be in following up and following the law. In March, the Congressional Research Service reported a "long-term pattern of understaffing" for pipeline safety in the U.S. Transportation Department.
Also, the GAO reported the federal pipeline safety office does not regulate most gathering pipelines that move gas to processing facilities. Those lines tend to be in remote areas.
The line that blew up Tuesday was a transmission line, a pipe that sends gas from where it is produced to where it is used.
About 15,000 miles of natural gas pipelines cross West Virginia, and 2.5 million miles cross the country. Most days, few people have occasion to think about the pipes under their feet, when they were installed, how they have weathered, what activity since may have disturbed them. The furnace simply runs, the water heats and so on.
But those pipes are at the front of people's minds today as the state awaits the report on what caused the explosion, and how to prevent another one.