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Senators to hold pipeline safety hearing in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will examine pipeline safety during a field hearing later this month in West Virginia, where a December explosion destroyed several homes and cooked a section of Interstate 77.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Democrat who chairs the panel, said Monday he will convene the hearing Jan. 28 in Charleston. A list of witnesses for the hearing is still being developed, a spokesman said.

On Dec. 11, 2012, a 20-inch Columbia Gas Transmission line ruptured, triggering a massive fire and shutting down a major traffic artery near Sissonville, about 15 miles from Charleston.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause, has said the line showed signs of external corrosion and had thinned to about one-third of the recommended thickness in some spots. The Office of Pipeline Safety also said in a preliminary report that "general wall thinning is a major factor in the cause of the failure."

"The Sissonville explosion shook West Virginia quite literally," Rockefeller said, "and served as a stark reminder that pipeline safety is serious. And oversight is critically important."

Although there were no serious injuries in Sissonville, Rockefeller said things could have been worse.

"And West Virginians want to know everything is being done to prevent accidents — and disasters," he said.

The hearing will be the fourth the committee has held on pipeline safety while Rockefeller has chaired it.

Among other things, the Commerce Committee will review the implementation of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, he said. It will also review the findings of a Government Accountability Office study expected Jan. 23 on how well prepared pipeline operators are to handle a hazardous liquid or gas release.

Columbia Gas Transmission is a subsidiary of Indiana-based NiSource.

The company said Monday it can't predict when the damaged pipeline will be back in service. But NiSource is working with federal, state and local officials "to take every step necessary to ensure the safety of our pipeline system," it said in an e-mail.