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Gas Pipeline Safety: Call 811 Before You Dig

By Charlotte Lane
Chair, WV Public Service Commission

I have often used this column as an opportunity to remind people to call 811 before they dig.  This week I’d like to brag a bit about the PSC’s Gas Pipeline Safety inspectors who are out in the field, across the state, keeping us safe.

We know natural gas is an affordable resource for heating water, cooking meals, drying clothes and keeping our homes warm in the winter.  We also know that if we smell sulfur in the air it may mean a gas leak and we should immediately leave the building and call 911.

But who keeps an eye on natural gas pipelines that transport the gas to your home?  In many cases, it’s the Public Service Commission’s Gas Pipeline Safety (GPS) inspectors.  Our team was responsible for more than 14,000 miles of gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in West Virginia in 2021.  New regulations that went into effect in May added another class of pipelines to the PSC’s jurisdiction, so that number will increase significantly this year.

Our GPS inspectors also monitor pipeline safety compliance for 96 gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators.  They performed 253 inspections last year, including operations and maintenance, integrity management, operator qualification and drug and alcohol plans.  They investigated three reportable incidents and inspected construction activities to ensure compliance with design and construction safety regulations.

Much of the work our GPS inspectors do takes place outdoors, where the pipelines are.  That means they work in all kinds of weather.  There is a GPS inspector on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the rare chance of an accident occurring.  Our GPS Division maintains a toll-free 24-hour hotline for pipeline operators to report incidents, accidents and gas outages.

GPS inspectors are required to receive training in all aspects of pipeline safety and on federal pipeline regulations at the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration Training and Qualification Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Inspectors must complete at least six intensive classes within their first three years on the job.  Additional training is required for those who work with hazardous liquids.  Training continues throughout an inspector’s career. 

Inspecting pipelines is tough and exacting work.  I wanted you to be aware of the highly trained and dedicated professionals who do this important work and keep all of us safe.