NTSB finds systemic problems in gas pipeline oversight

Federal investigators said a series of recent natural gas pipeline explosions show the need to improve oversight of the biggest pipelines.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted more than two dozen safety recommendations for gas pipeline oversight Tuesday, based largely on three recent high-profile incidents, The Associated Press reported.

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The NTSB looked most closely at “high-consequence” pipelines, which run through dense areas and present the highest risk of injury, death and building damage when they explode.

Thanks in part to an overhaul of safety rules in 2004 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, incidents with such pipelines have leveled off in recent years, investigators found, but not fallen.

Further improvements in safety are needed "to prevent catastrophic gas transmission line accidents from ever happening again," Chris Hart, the acting NTSB chairman, told the AP.

In the same period of time as the leveling off, pipelines that don’t cross state borders and are only regulated by state authorities saw 27 percent more incidents than federally overseen ones.

The NTSB focused its efforts on a Florida explosion in 2009, a California incident in 2010 and a West Virginia fire in 2012. In each case, gas companies failed to do the right inspections that would have discovered problems before the explosions.