Check safety in gas industry

An editorial from The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Some industries can never be entirely free of risk. Ohio Valley residents, many of whom have worked in coal mines, steel mills and similar jobs, understand that. They realize that in our new economic boom, gas and oil drilling and processing, accidents are bound to occur.

In both the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio, there have been many gas-related calamities during the past few years. Two more occurred this week.

In Monroe County, a pipeline carrying natural gas condensate exploded and sparked a blaze that required response from several volunteer fire departments. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

Then, on Tuesday night, a malfunction at a well in Jefferson County sent natural gas spewing into the air. Hundreds of residents in the area were evacuated temporarily, as a precaution. Again, no injuries were reported.

After such accidents occur, state regulatory agencies investigate them. Sometimes, if negligence is found, companies involved are fined and their activities are restricted. Usually, government reports on the incidents are released.

Given the frequency of gas industry accidents in our area, it may be time for a general report on safety and accident prevention practices. How does the industry stack in this region stack up against drillers, processors and pipeliners elsewhere in the country? Are accidents more or less frequent? Do improvements need to be made? Are safety and environmental inspections being conducted frequently enough and if not, why?

Most regulatory activity involving the industry is conducted by state agencies. That could be a challenge in preparing a report covering safety in the tri-state area. No agency’s officials want to see a report comparing them unfavorably with their counterparts elsewhere.

Still, such an investigation should be conducted, perhaps as a joint exercise involving West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It would be welcomed by area residents concerned about safety – not to mention people working on the wells, pipelines and processing plants.

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