Nearly one month after the damaging natural gas line explosion in Sissonville, Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Monday announced plans to hold a congressional field hearing on pipeline safety in Charleston.Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Monday he has set the special Senate Commerce Committee field hearing entitled "Pipeline Safety: An On-the-Ground Look at Safeguarding the Public" for Jan. 28.The hearing comes on the heels of the Dec. 11 rupture and explosion of a 20-inch Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline in Sissonville. It scorched a quarter-mile swath of earth and destroyed several nearby homes.No one was killed or seriously injured by the blast. "The Sissonville explosion shook West Virginia quite literally and served as a stark reminder that pipeline safety is serious," Rockefeller said in a statement. "And oversight is critically important."The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the explosion. Officials have said preliminary findings indicate the pipe had corroded and thinned to 70 percent of its original thickness.Columbia, which is owned by Indiana-based NiSource, has taken steps to restart the repaired line.But local officials, including Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, have been calling for stronger safety measures to prevent future explosions.Rockefeller, who serves as Commerce Committee chairman, said the committee would use the hearing to review the U.S. Department of Transportation's implementation of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011.
Rockefeller had cosponsored many of the proposals included in the law, which took effect last January. But he said officials need to look into strengthening the law. "Passing comprehensive pipeline safety legislation was a good step, but I did push for even stronger provisions in that bill - and we must assess where implementation of that law stands, and whether future actions are needed," he said.Officials will also use the hearing to review the findings of a new Government Accountability Office study researching transmission pipeline operators' ability to respond to a hazardous liquid or gas release.Rockefeller said that study is due to be released Jan. 23.Additional hearing details - including time, location and a witness list - will be announced at a later date."This will be the fourth Senate Commerce Committee hearing on this issue during my tenure as chairman, and it's an important one to West Virginia - because we know how much worse things could have been in Sissonville," Rockefeller said.
"And West Virginians want to know everything is being done to prevent accidents - and disasters."Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.