Keeping Gas Pipelines Safe

Marshall County officials say Williams Partners, which operates natural gas processing facilities in the area, has been cooperative and responsive to local concerns. That’s good.

What is not good, however, is that a 24-inch gas pipeline owned by the firm ruptured Friday afternoon.

To the company’s credit, its operators detected the break and shut off the flow of gas quickly. There was no fire. Still, a few homes along Reed Ridge near Cameron were evacuated for a time.

A Williams spokesman said no one was hurt and the only damage was to the company’s equipment. He added the cause of the break is being investigated.

The line was a fairly new one, so it does not require an expert to understand the most likely explanation is improper installation of the pipe. Given the many miles of gas pipeline laid in this area during the past couple of years, that possibility should concern area residents greatly.

Again, Williams detected the rupture and shut down the line quickly. But the potential for a more severe emergency existed. Local residents may remember that in December, a 20-inch gas transmission line near Sissonville, W.Va., exploded, destroying a few homes, along with a section of Interstate 77.

Both state and federal agencies have regulatory authority over pipelines, though most of the power seems to rest in Washington. There, a new set of pipeline safety rules is being implemented.

Clearly, in view of the frequency of problems, the process needs to be accelerated. Perhaps more resources need to be devoted to it.

And, while much of the concern about pipeline safety focuses on older lines such as the one near Sissonville, the local accident indicates new construction also is a challenge. High-pressure gas pipelines require specialized materials and techniques applied carefully.

Safe pipelines are in gas companies’ interests for the obvious reason that problems with them cost money to repair and interrupt the flow of gas. Still, breaks continue to occur.

That needs to be rectified. As we have pointed out previously, Ohio Valley residents have had a good relationship with most companies involved in every stage of the gas business. It will take just one true disaster for that to change – and no one wants that to happen.