CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal regulators have outlined a series of corrective steps that must take place before an energy company returns to service a natural gas pipeline that was the source of a spectacular and destructive explosion Dec. 11 near Sissonville.
The corrective action, outlined in an order to Columbia Gas Transmission, warns the 20-inch diameter pipeline would be "hazardous to life, property and the environment" if the corrective actions are not followed.
"We want this pipeline to be put back in service in the safest way possible," Damon Hill, a spokesman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said Friday. "The whole point of issuing the order is to make sure ... the integrity of the pipeline is sound."
A spokeswoman for Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of NiSource, did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press.
The pipeline explosion about 15 miles outside of Charleston sent a fireball into the sky and destroyed four homes, damaged five others and scorched an 800-foot section of Interstate 77. There were no serious injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause of the explosion, has said the line showed signs of external corrosion and had thinned to about one-third of the recommended thickness in some spots.
The Office of Pipeline Safety said in a preliminary report that "general wall thinning is a major factor in the cause of the failure," according to the order to Columbia from Jeffrey D. Wiese, associate administrator for pipeline safety.
The Charleston Gazette reported Friday that the pipeline was constructed in 1967, which it said contradicted statements from NiSource that it dated to the 1990s. The newspaper said it learned the age of the pipeline from federal records.
Hill said he could not address the question of the pipeline's age, but said the NTSB ultimately would provide that information once its investigation is completed.
Columbia Gas officials will have to submit a restart plan that "basically talks about how they're going to address a lot of things safety-wise," Hill said. "The pipeline won't be allowed to restart until they give us a return to service plan."