I have often used this column as an opportunity to remind people to call 811 before digging. This week, I’d like to brag a bit about the PSC’s gas pipeline safety inspectors who are on the ground, across the state, keeping us safe.
We know that 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 could mean a gas leak and we should immediately leave the building and call 911.
But who monitors the natural gas pipelines that carry the gas to your home? In many cases, these are the Public Service Commission’s Pipeline Safety Inspectors (GPS). Our team was responsible for more than 14,000 miles of gas and hazardous liquids pipelines in West Virginia in 2021. New regulations that took effect in May added another class of pipelines to PSC’s jurisdiction, so this number will increase significantly this year.
Our GPS inspectors also monitor pipeline safety compliance for 96 gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators. They carried out 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 of our GPS inspectors takes place outdoors where the pipelines are. This means they work in all weathers. 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 24-hour toll-free hotline for pipeline operators to report gas incidents, accidents and outages.
GPS inspectors must receive training in all aspects of pipeline safety and 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 courses during their first three years of work. Additional training is required for those who work with hazardous liquids. Training continues throughout an inspector’s career.
Pipeline inspection is hard and demanding work. I wanted you to know about the highly trained and dedicated professionals who do this important work and keep us all safe.
Charlotte Lane is president of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.