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Pipeline safety bill introduced in US Senate

03.01.2011  |  Thinnes, Billy,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, Houston, TX

Keywords: [pipeline] [safety] [US] [government oversight] [natural gas] [oil]

Two US senators have introduced legislation to enhance pipeline safety in the country. The bill strengthens pipeline safety oversight by the US federal government and addresses long-standing safety issues, including the use of automatic shutoff valves and excess flow valves.

“Pipelines transport valuable energy resources to communities across our nation. While our pipeline system is largely safe, when accidents occur the consequences can be catastrophic,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), one of the bill’s two original co-sponsors. “Our legislation will help to ensure the safety and efficiency of this vital transportation network. We can prevent deadly accidents by requiring more advanced technology, increased inspections, and steeper penalties for safety violations.”

“Safety should be the bedrock of any responsible business,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the other original co-sponsor of the legislation. “We want to make sure worker and consumer safety remain a top priority. This bill will give the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) the tools it needs to provide stronger oversight of our nation’s pipeline system. Safety should never take a backseat to profit.”

The US has approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines that transport oil, natural gas and hazardous liquids. These pipelines are an integral component of the US economy and energy supply, and are generally considered a safer mode of transportation than other options for moving gas and liquids.

Since 2006, there have been approximately 40 pipeline incidents each year that resulted in a fatality or injury. Last September, a natural-gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people. In January of this year, a 12-in. gas main exploded in a residential neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, killing a gas company employee and injuring five others. The cause of that blast remains under investigation.

The pipeline safety legislation seeks to mitigate pipeline risks through a number of measures. It would reauthorize and strengthen the authority of the PHMSA through fiscal year 2014. Other highlights of the bill include: increased civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations; expanded excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities; required installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on new transmission pipelines; instructs the US Secretary of Transportation to establish time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders; requires the US Secretary of Transportation to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high-consequence areas and establish regulations as appropriate; makes pipeline information, inspections, and standards available to the public on the PHMSA’s website; and authorizes additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees through a phased-in increase over the next four years.  HP


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