PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you’re one of the 263,000 customers of Columbia Gas in this region, some bad news: the Public Utility Commission has approved a 16 percent increase in your natural gas bill.

Why such an increase when Marcellus Shale gas is plentiful?

Two words — aging pipelines.

“Of that 7,400 miles of pipe, 1,700 of it is aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced, and we’re committed to doing that,” Columbia Gas spokesperson Sarah Perry told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

To replace those pipelines before they cause serious damage and injury, Columbia will use money from its customers to help pay for the upgrades.

“In 2013 alone, we will replace over $140 million worth of infrastructure,” says Perry.

Perry says the average residential user will see his bill go up from around $67 a month to $78 — an $11 increase — or $132 increase over the year.

“We do believe this is a reasonable return and a reasonable rate to ask for the investment we are making in Pennsylvania,” notes Perry.

The rate hikes won’t take effect until July, and don’t be surprised if other gas companies follow Columbia’s example.

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