Pipeline fire adds fuel to residents' fears
By Susan Williams

The Charleston Gazette
12 March 2003

A fire caused by a break in a natural gas pipeline was exactly what Carolyn Mullins feared.

On Monday, a 12-inch gas line owned by Dominion Resources failed and caused a fire on a hillside between Pineville and Baileysville in Wyoming County.

Mullins helped to form a group called The Groundkeepers when she first learned of Dominion's plan to build a 30- inch diameter pipeline near her home in Piney View in Raleigh County. The company wants to build a pipeline starting in Kanawha County and extending about 275 miles to North Carolina.

"This is just what we feared," Mullins said Tuesday. "We have had two breaks like this in West Virginia in seven months."

At the Public Service Commission in Charleston, Dave Hippchen said preliminary reports show that external corrosion is the likely culprit. Hippchen is an engineer in PSC's gas and pipeline safety section.

Hippchen said two inspectors are in Wyoming County examining the problem.

"The coating on the outside of the pipe failed. Apparently tiny pin holes appeared in the pipe," Hippchen said. Water could have caused the corrosion, he said.

Hippchen said he is not sure how long the resulting fire burned.

The inspectors are also looking at records. They will meet in Clarksburg Friday with Dominion officials, he said.

It could still be a few weeks before a final report is completed, Hippchen said.

The accident "shook a few houses," said Dean Meadows, director of emergency services in Wyoming County.

"I have not heard of any great damage," Meadows said, "but I am sure it shook pictures on the wall. We are blessed that nothing worse happened."

Dominion officials, as well as police and fire officials, responded quickly, he said.

Bob Fulton, a spokesman for Dominion, said, "A line broke and ignited. It could have been corrosion. We are still investigating."

Last week, officials with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission distributed a large, two-volume Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Greenbrier Pipeline Project. Even though homeowners like Mullins in several counties have protested the pipeline, FERC officials seem ready to give their approval.

The Greenbrier Pipeline Co. is an equity venture between Dominion Greenbrier Inc., based in Richmond, Va. Piedmont is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Piedmont Natural Gas Co., based in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact staff writer Susan Williams, use e-mail or call 348-5112.

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