Hoping "There Isn't A Next Time"

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller Monday convened a hearing on pipeline safety, after the December explosion in Kanawha County.

This image provided by the Kanawha County Emergency Services shows flames erupting across Interstate 77 from a gas line explosion in Sissonville, W. Va., Tuesday Dec. 11, 2012. At least five homes went up in flames Tuesday afternoon and a badly damaged section of Interstate 77 was shut down in both directions near Sissonville after a major gas line explosion triggered an hour-long inferno that officials say spanned about a quarter-mile. (AP Photo/Kanawha County Emergency Services)

"Projectiles began falling like missles through the ceiling of my home. And I felt immediate intense heat that took my breath away."

That's what Sue Bonham, who lives a short distance from December's pipeline explosion told a committee hearing chaired by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Rockefeller says Bonham's story is similar to those of others who live or lived in that area.

"The houses that were houses that were stripped of their integrity is not a happy experience at all.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the explosion. Its chairman says part of the key to preventing future accidents is more frequent inspections, especially of aging pipelines.

"Some of these pipes have not been subject to stringent materials or operational tests prior to 1970," says the NTSB's Deborah Hersman, "and they aren't being inspected with in-line inspection tools."

Hersman testified that it took one hour after the explosion was reported, to shut down the pipeline altogether.

With response time an issue in this discussion, the question was asked: if you can use a remote control, to open a car door, why can't the same process be used to turn off a leaking gas line?

Te head of the company operating the pipeline says it is complying with legislation Sen. Rockefeller supported and Congress passed, aimed at ensuring pipeline safety.

"Our modernization program includes the replacement of thousands of miles of older pipelines, provides for pipeline upgrades, and the replacement of compression equipment to provide for efficiency and environmental performance," said Jim Staton, Executive Vice-President, NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage.

Bonham, virtually homeless as a result of the disaster, says Columbia Gas has been working to find housing for her family.

"We're trying to move forward. My husband and I are happy to have survived everything and move forword at this point."


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