Curtis Tate Published

Water Company Chief Pushes Back On Charleston Gas Outage

Mounds of dirt surround holes in the street with orange caution signs and cones to warn drivers.
Officials were working to restore gas lines on Charleston's West Side on Nov. 16, 2023.
Curtis Tate/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rob Burton, the president of West Virginia American Water, told the state legislature on Monday that it’s not certain a broken water main caused hundreds of residents on Charleston’s West Side to lose gas service last month.

Burton, testifying to the joint standing committee on technology and infrastructure, said the eight-inch iron pipe was installed in 1989 and could be expected to last 80 to 100 years. He said no problems with the pipe had been detected.

“The eight-inch ductile iron main was in good condition, with no history of leaks, repairs or customer issues dating back through our readily available records since 2009,” Burton testified.

From the beginning of the outage on Nov. 10, Gov. Jim Justice has blamed West Virginia American Water for causing it. Mountaineer Gas has sued the water company, and the state Public Service Commission is investigating.

Burton pushed back in his testimony Monday.

“Until there is a full investigation,” he said, “prematurely declaring what caused this incident will not be helpful to prevent such an event in the future.”

Burton said Mountaineer Gas has not provided details about the age and condition of its pipe.

“Does the gas line have a leak history?” Burton asked. “It is also unknown as to which underground utility broke first.”

Burton also said Mountaineer Gas has not explained why it couldn’t isolate more of its gas lines as the water spread through them. Water ultimately got into 46 miles of gas lines and many customers’ household service lines.

West Virginia American Water is offering a reimbursement to affected residents of as much as $2,000, provided they sign a waiver.

The PSC has said its investigation could take 180 to 250 days to complete.