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Feds to push for gas line safety valves

| Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 8:54 p.m.

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Obama administration moved Wednesday to significantly expand a requirement for utilities to install inexpensive safety valves on gas lines across the United States as a result of deadly fires and explosions going back decades that could have been avoided.

The Transportation Department proposal would cover new or replaced natural gas lines serving multi-family dwellings, small businesses and homes not covered under a 2009 mandate.

The National Transportation Safety Board and other safety advocates have pressed for years to broaden requirements for so-called excess flow valves. The devices cost about $30 apiece for residential use, according to officials, and are designed to shut off the flow of gas automatically when a line is ruptured.

An Associated Press investigation in 2012 uncovered more than 270 accidents dating to 1968 that could have been averted or made less dangerous if the valves had been in place.

Fire Capt. David Wells led the first company responding to the scene of a gas explosion in Springfield, Mass., in November 2012 that injured at least 20 people and damaged dozens of buildings with a boom heard for miles. Investigators said the accident could have been averted if valves had shut off the spewing gas.

Having the valves in place also would help keep first responders safe, said Wells, adding that some of his colleagues are still recovering from injuries.

“It caused three guys to retire from the job, and some guys are still suffering from headaches and pains. Some of the guys are more gun-shy now when it comes to gas leaks,” Wells said.

Officials stressed that the valves won't prevent lines from being ruptured, such as when a backhoe doing excavation work slices through a gas pipe servicing a house. But by limiting the amount of gas that escapes, the valves can prevent a buildup of fuel that can contribute to explosions or fires.

“This important action will add extra protections to communities serviced by the nation's largest network of pipelines,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Federal officials say the valves could have averted at least eight accidents that killed 10 people since 1998, including Springfield.

The valves also could help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change, officials said.

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