Tuesday, May 14, 2013

West Virginia Governor Tomblin Signs New Pipeline Safety Bill Into Law

On Tuesday, December 11, 2012 a twenty inch natural gas pipeline owned by Columbia Gas exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia.  The explosion resulted in intense flames that shot nearly 100 feet into the air and melted nearly eight hundred feet of interstate asphalt and guardrails along Interstate 77.  Although four houses were destroyed and five others were damaged, no one was seriously injured in the blast.  Nevertheless, the massive explosion resulted in increased scrutiny of pipeline safety laws. 

In the wake of the Sissonville pipeline explosion, House Bill 2505 was proposed by West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and introduced in the West Virginia Legislature with the aim of further discouraging pipeline safety violations by dramatically increasing the maximum civil penalties assessed for such violations.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Tomblin on April 19, 2013.  The Governor stated in a recent Charleston Gazette article that the intention of the law is not so much punitive as it is an encouragement for companies to ensure their pipelines are properly inspected and maintained.

Although Columbia Gas has reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties as a result of the Sissonville explosion, the penalties would have likely been much stiffer under the new law.  House Bill 2505 increases the maximum penalties for pipeline safety violations from $1,000 per day to $200,000 per day for each day that the violation persists.  The maximum aggregate penalty for any "related series" of violations has been increased from $200,000 to $2,000,000.  The new law also prescribes that a company may not seek a rate increase from the Public Service Commission based upon amounts paid in penalties for pipeline safety violations.

House Bill 2505 applies to intrastate gas transmission lines.  Gathering lines in rural areas and interstate pipelines are regulated by the federal government. 

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