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U.S. House Passes Pipeline Safety Bill Wednesday Night

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2006 Wednesday night by unanimous voice vote. The act is seen as essential for the energy industry because it provides funding and direction for the U.S. Department of Transportation's pipeline safety oversight programs.

If approved by the Senate, the measure then goes to President George W. Bush's desk for signature. However, there has been some question as to whether the act will be passed before year-end (see Daily GPI, Nov. 20). The most recent pipeline safety law, the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, expired at the end of September.

The legislation would also provide new funding to strengthen excavation damage prevention programs, which enhance the safety of the nation's 2.2 million miles of America's natural gas pipelines. The number of serious incidents caused by third party excavators hitting utility lines has more than doubled in the last four years, according to U.S. Department of Transportation safety statistics.

"This legislation is a significant step in protecting natural gas distribution pipelines from damage by third party excavators," said American Gas Association (AGA) CEO David N. Parker. "We applaud Representatives Young, Oberstar, Dingell and Barton for their extraordinary leadership in the House identifying and working to reduce the risk of hits on utility pipelines by outside parties."

The AGA said the legislation also contains provisions and financial incentives to encourage states to adopt excavation damage prevention programs that contain the same elements as programs that have proved extremely successful in Minnesota and Virginia.

"We commend Congress for producing a law that will make a measurable impact on the safety of pipelines," said Parker. "We look forward to a vote in the Senate on this legislation, so that it can go to the President for signature and states can soon begin to develop more effective damage prevention programs."

The bill also contains a provision that mandates the installation of excess flow valves on new service lines or entirely replaced service lines serving single-family homes.

The AGA noted that natural gas utilities operate 1.9 million miles of distribution pipeline (another 300,000 miles of natural gas pipeline are transmission lines) and serve 63 million residential customers. The industry spends an estimated $6 billion each year to maintain the system's safety record.

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