CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Local officials are asking regulators to go slow when it comes to restarting the natural gas pipeline that exploded in Sissonville earlier this month.
Last week the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said the company could plan to restart the 26.2-mile segment of pipe after taking a number of steps, including repairs and inspections.
The state Public Service Commission also gave the gas company a long list of demands that must be met before the pipe is restarted.
But some officials say safety must trump speed when getting the pipeline back up and running.
"We escaped the other day, we don't want to push our luck," county fire coordinator C.W. Sigman told the Charleston Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/VjMiDf ).
Four homes were destroyed, several others were damaged and a section of Interstate 77 was cooked in the Dec. 11 explosion. No one was seriously injured.
"Timing is not the issue. The issue is making sure it's safe," Sigman told The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/VG4juy). "It already had one rupture and burnt several buildings down. We want to make sure it doesn't happen again so we don't want to be in any hurry."
Sigman said it likely would take a while for NiSource subsidiary Columbia Gas Transmission to meet the requirements. A company spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.
Among other things, the company has a month to run a "smart pig" through the pipe segment, which starts near Cross Lanes and runs northeastward. These metal pigs, which can resemble a metal jellyfish, travel through a pipeline to check for irregularities, including cracks and corrosion.
It is unclear how long or how expensive the process will be. A Columbia spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.
The pipe that exploded had corroded and thinned to 70 percent of its original thickness, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the explosion.
"How do we know that there's other areas that's not that thin?" Sigman said. "We don't know."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said that since a portion of pipeline was so deteriorated before it exploded, it should be confirmed that the rest of the pipeline isn't as dangerous.
"The community has an absolute right to be safe. The traveling public driving over interstates have a right to be safe and the first responders deserve better than this," Carper said. "It's incumbent on the gas company to prove to the regulatory authorities that the line is intact from beginning to end."
The PSC proposed that NiSource partially test the pipeline and its valves to ensure its safety. But Sigman said he prefer that they are fully tested.
"Partially tested only verifies it partially," he said. "We are not a regulator, we cannot tell (the gas company) what they can and cannot do but we want to make sure they understand our concerns and explain how to make it safe. We want to make sure we're all on the same page and feel like it's the safe thing to do."
Both also worry that other dangerous pipes remain in the ground.
The piece of pipe that exploded dates to 1967, but pieces of the system originally were installed in the early 1950s.
Columbia already has restarted two pipes within 200 feet of the pipeline that exploded. Officials believe neither was damaged in the blast.