When members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee convene for a special hearing in Charleston on Jan. 28, a field trip may be in order.
Members of the committee, chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are coming to West Virginia to learn more about pipeline safety. Their hearing will be just a few minutes' drive from Sissonville, where something of a miracle occurred on Dec. 11.
That morning, a 20-inch natural gas pipeline exploded. The break was more than 110 feet away from Interstate 77, yet a gas-fueled blowtorch flamed all the way across the four-lane highway. About 1,100 feet of pavement was damaged. Three homes were destroyed.
The miracle was that no one was killed or even injured seriously.
National Transportation Safety Board officials have released a preliminary report on the accident. It points to a serious concern - age - about pipelines.
Installed in 1967, the line at Sissonville was corroded badly. Metal in the pipe wall where the break occurred was .281-inch thick in 1967. NTSB inspectors found it had corroded to one-fourth that thickness.
A new federal pipeline safety law took effect a year ago. Members of the Senate committee will be discussing it. They should be debating whether it provides adequate protection for the public and whether it is being implemented quickly enough. If not, enforcement efforts should be expedited, if necessary with additional resources for the involved federal agencies.