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Federal approval granted for Columbia infrastructure overhaul

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Columbia Gas Transmission has received the green light on a $300 million annual "comprehensive infrastructure investment plan" as a result of a customer settlement.

Columbia announced the proposed plan was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this morning. The settlement had been filed in September and included identifying individual infrastructure projects and detailingthe plan to recover update costs.

"FERC's approval of our customer settlement is a milestone in our efforts to modernize Columbia's interstate pipeline system in a balanced, thoughtful and transparent manner," said Jimmy Staton, Columbia's chief executive officer. "We acknowledge FERC for their timely review and approval, and appreciate the collaboration from our customers. We look forward to getting the job done. The work we do will help ensure safer, more reliable pipeline infrastructure for our customers and the communities across our footprint."

According to the settlement approval filed at FERC, Columbia stated that more than 73 percent of its 12,000 miles of pipelines were constructed before 1970. That means those pipelines were not subject to modern pipeline safety standards.

"In addition, Columbia states that its system contains approximately 1,272 miles of bare steel pipeline, which is at higher risk for corrosion and failure," the FERC document states. "According to Columbia, this is significantly more bare steel pipeline than any other interstate pipeline subject to DOT regulation.  Columbia states that the majority of its system cannot accommodate in-line inspection and cleaning tools."

The settlement details about $300 million annually for infrastructure investment with another $100 million invested in ongoing maintenance through 2017.

The plan includes efforts to do the following:

  • Replacing Aging Infrastructure — commencing the replacement of approximately 1,000 miles of existing interstate transmission pipelines, primarily bare steel (400 miles in the first five years);
  • Upgrading Natural Gas Compression Systems — replacing and modernizing more than 50 critical compressor units along the pipeline system that will enhance system efficiency and improve environmental performance;
  • Increasing Pipeline System Reliability — uprating pressures and looping systems where needed to ensure gas is reliably delivered to critical markets; and
  • Expanding In-Line Inspection Capabilities — facilitating Columbia's ability to perform state-of-the-art maintenance and inspections without interrupting services

Investments will be made across various states, including in West Virginia here a recent Columbia gas line exploded. The Sissonville explosion in December destroyed several homes and was attributed to an aged pipeline.

Full investigation of the incident is still ongoing.

Columbia plans to make these infrastructure investments over the next 10 to 15 years, prioritizing lines where a public safety or service disruption is likely.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in his role as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is bringing a pipeline safety hearing in Charleston Monday.

"I am fully committed to doing everything in my power as chair of the commerce committee to see that transporting natural gas throughout West Virginia first and foremost with the safety of our people in mind," Rockefeller said in a video sent to constituents today.