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Pipeline safety is expensive and worth it

The Dec. 11 explosion of a natural gas pipeline in Sissonville caused an enormous fire that destroyed a substantial portion of interstate highway. It sent a powerful reminder of the necessity of maintaining the nation's infrastructure.

Investigators determined that the section of pipeline that gave way had been installed in 1967 - nearly a half century ago.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the metal was in some places only 30 percent as thick as it should be.

Not only was the material old, but so was the technology. That section of the pipeline did not automatically shut off and it took a crew more than an hour to find and manually shut the pipeline off. Automatic shutoffs along the pipeline are a must.

Now, six weeks later, federal officials have approved an ambitious plan by NiSource, owner of Columbia Gas Transmission, to spend $300 million a year for the next five years to replace 400 miles of old pipelines in

Appalachia. The plan includes West Virginia and the five neighboring states of Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The plan also calls for upgrading 50 critical compressor units. Columbia officials said the $1.5 billion plan will create or support 1,700 jobs in West Virginia.

"We acknowledge FERC for their timely review and approval, and appreciate the collaboration from our customers," said Jimmy Staton, CEO of Columbia.

"We look forward to getting the job done. The work we do will help ensure safer, more reliable pipeline infrastructure for our customers and the communities across our footprint."

This is part of the company's long-term plan to replace 1,000 miles of pipeline at a cost of $4 billion.

The nation has 2.5 million miles of pipeline. Imagine the expense if it were all replaced.

The money won't fall from the trees, but instead will be paid for by Columbia's customers.

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller's Monday hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee into pipeline safety underscored the need for such reinvestment - something made very clear to the area on Dec. 11.

It's good to see companies commit to that work.



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