SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — One year later the images are still fresh in everyone’s minds of a natural gas pipeline rupturing in Sissonville.

“It was an incredible scene,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. “The fire melted the interstate and it looked like lava, just boiling.”

Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of the event that had a 20-inch natural gas line rupturing on Archibald Hill, shooting flames 80 to 90 feet into the air and sending debris flying.

The explosion and the fires that followed destroyed four residences, damaged five others and crumbled a football field long section of Interstate 77 near Sissonville.

Immediately following the explosion Kanawha County emergency crews reacted and evacuated residents in the area within 1,000 feet of the explosion site. Carper said the emergency response was the difference.

“The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, West Virginia State Police, the volunteer fire service, everyone did a perfect job in working together to reduce further harm to the community,” he said.

Once the smoke settled that Tuesday afternoon, only five residents were transported to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

“It was a true Christmas miracle a year ago that we didn’t have a number of fatalities,” Carper said.

Due to the explosion, Interstate 77 had to be shut down, but only for a couple days as road crews worked around the clock to fix the road surface in record timing.

“What they did to allow the interstate to reopen again really saved millions of dollars in commerce in this area because of the time of year, plus it also prevented other accidents,” Carper explains.

One year later, a new stretch of pipeline replaces the ruptured pipe and pipeline safety is front and center.

“There’s a new national awareness and certainly an awareness in the state about natural gas pipelines being a very important thing to keep an eye on and have them inspected regularly,” said Carper.

Since the explosion, the West Virginia Public Service Commission has released several pages of violations by Columbia Gas. 

The National Transportation Safety Board has been conducting an investigation into the explosion. A preliminary report was released in July, but a final conclusion is pending.

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  • Edward Mills

    You are rightly pleased that no one was hurt or killed. And the replacement with new pipe addresses the safety of the specific location.

    BUT, two items should bother you - first that the Pipeline Monitoring failed to identify the problem and shut off flow. There need to be intermediate sensors and shutoffs (preferably automatic) that would sense and isolate any leak. I suspect that since this is an older line such technology was not available and has not been retrofitted into the system. I would suggest that this needs to be done immediately even if it is not part of the final report. These gas lines built 40 to 50 years ago are PURE PROFIT and have been from about 10 years after construction except for such events.

    Second, because it is an older line, I fear you have only patched the current weakest link. Will it simply blow out a few miles upstream or downstream as happened on the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline in Louisiana (June 2013 event in Washington Parish just outside the area tested as a result of a similar 2012 explosion further west on same pipeline). And the same pipeline has had a total of 16 reported Property Damage events from 2006 to 2013. Should we continue to patch the weak links as they occur or should the pipelines be replaced. I was told that the design life for a new pipeline being put in locally was 40-50 years. In a meeting discussing the pipeline failure here the pipeline guy sitting next to me indicated erosion / corrosion material removal of 0.001 inch per year was considered "good" for older pipelines. So a 5/16 wall thickness (0.3125 in) might be expected to erode / corrode removing 0.050 in 50 years reducing the wall thickness to 0.2625 inches with significant impact to the Factor of Safety and hence the safe operating pressure - and that further assumes no unanticipated local corrosion event.

    Again, I would point out that cost of laying a pipeline including buying Right of Way is typically recovered in a reasonably short period based on tariffs paid for transportation of gas. Surely the cost of replacing a line within an existing RoW with current technology would be a good investment relative to Safety.