The U.S. Government Accountability Office says more data is needed to determine if emergency response times to natural gas line incidents need to be improved.

The GAO issued its report Wednesday that was mandated a year ago when President Barack Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act into law.

The report is of particular interest in West Virginia following the Dec. 2012 natural gas pipeline explosion near Sissonville.

GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues Susan Fleming told MetroNews Wednesday the agency’s initial goal was to see what the incident response times have been around the country but she says they found the data was lacking.

“We couldn’t use it,” Fleming said. “That’s when we came to the conclusion that that’s certainly an important piece of the puzzle.”

The GAO report does recommend the federal Dept. of Transportation improve incident response data and use that information to determine how to improve response times.

Fleming says data and communication are the keys to preventing pipeline incidents and responding to them when they do occur.

“The data can help in the terms of understanding how to prevent and what makes sense for your particular system,” she said. “With communication many of the variables are developing a communication network with your local first responders.”

The report also addresses the use of shutoff valves when there’s a pipeline incident. Fleming says the automated valves have their advantages and disadvantages. The report says “it is appropriate to decide whether to install automated valves on a case-by-case basis.”

GAO says there’s a 2.5 million mile network of hazardous liquid and natural gas pipelines in the U.S. including more than 400,000 miles of “transmission” pipelines.

Fleming is scheduled to testify next week at a congressional field hearing in Charleston that will focus on pipeline safety.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Sissonville explosion continues.


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