WSAZ Investigates | Digging deeper into gas outage cause

WSAZ Investigates | Digging Deeper into Cause of Gas Outage
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:56 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has declared a State of Emergency and directed the state’s Public Service Commission to initiate an investigation into a natural gas outage affecting Kanawha County, saying the incident will not get swept under the rug and disappear without answers.

That news came on day six without heat, a warm shower or a place to cook at one’s home -- the story for hundreds of natural gas customers on Charleston’s West Side.

With each passing day, the call for answers grows louder.

Kanawha County attorneys Dante’ diTrapano and Jesse Forbes filed suit this week against Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water.

“What do you hope comes from this lawsuit?” asked WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson.

“Number one -- accountability,” Forbes answered. “These folks want to make sure that the people responsible for this -- the corporations, the giant corporations responsible for this fix the system and it doesn’t happen again.”

Before the lawsuit was filed, Mountaineer Gas Senior Vice President Moses Skaff told WSAZ a water main break forced itself into the gas line flooding the system, leading to the outage.

“I have never seen the magnitude of water that has gone through a system of this nature,” he said.

West Virginia American Water confirmed Tuesday to WSAZ that a water main break happened Friday on the West Side, but beyond that would only say the company is, “unable to provide comment regarding assumptions or speculation on how the gas outage may have occurred.”

So, Johnson reached out again Wednesday asking, “Is West Virginia American Water investigating if that main break resulted in water from your company entering Mountaineer gas lines resulting in the outage?”

He also asked, “Did damage resulting from a water main break Friday cause West Virginia American Water to send any notification to Mountaineer Gas Company?”

West Virginia American would not answer either of those questions. A spokesperson only provided this statement.

“We will continue to communicate with and support the City of Charleston’s efforts to assist residents; however, West Virginia American Water is unable to provide comment on matters of litigation,” the statement read.

Justice declared the State of Emergency late Wednesday afternoon. It directed the PSC to initiate a full investigation into the cause of the outage and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Before that announcement, a PSC spokesperson told Johnson the agency has no independent verification of a cause. However, the head of gas pipeline division is following the situation and updating commissioners.

While crews work to restore service to the hundreds without, the lawsuit claims this all could have prevented.

It alleges that West Virginia American should have known the “water main was failure-prone,” and that Mountaineer Gas “failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the ingress of water from a ruptured water main.”

“There’s elderly people,” Forbes told Johnson. “There’s folks that have health difficulties, have children present -- that are trying to figure out how to keep them warm and keep them fed, and it’s time that this be fixed, and it needs to be fixed overall. It should have never occurred.”

Currently, the lawsuit represents just one West Side resident. However, attorneys hope to gain class action status and represent all 1,100 customers.

Johnson reached out to Mountaineer Gas again after that lawsuit was filed, but a company spokesperson said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

WSAZ also reached back out to the PSC regarding the governor’s call for an investigation, but the station had not heard back of 6 p.m. Wednesday.