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Pipe Safety Reauthorization Measure Clears Senate Panel

The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday approved by voice vote pipeline safety reauthorization legislation that would levy stiffer penalties on pipelines (oil, natural gas and hazardous) following the rash of explosions in past months.

The measure (S. 275), the "Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act," cleared the Senate panel with few amendments. "We're hoping that they're going to move very quickly on it in the Senate," said a spokeswoman for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), which represents interstate gas pipelines. A comparable bill has not been introduced in the House yet.

"I think that it [the bill] makes a number of policy changes that are constructive," such as integrity management (reducing the risks of accidents, particularly in densely populated areas) and damage prevention efforts, said Martin Edwards, INGAA's vice president of legislative affairs. "It doesn't mean that we like every part of it...Is it a bill that we feel is workable? The answer is 'Yes,'" he noted.

Asked if he felt the legislation was tougher on pipelines because of the series of accidents, Edwards said, "I think it's more comprehensive about what a safety program should include and entail."

"This legislation updates and improves pipeline safety policy in several areas, including integrity management and damage prevention," said INGAA President Don Santa. "Combined with regulatory initiatives that the [Department of Transportation's] Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is expected to launch and the initiatives INGAA is undertaking through our board-level pipeline safety task force efforts, we believe the results will be a safer pipeline system nationwide," he noted.

In April, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed a national pipeline safety campaign aimed at repairing and replacing aging pipelines to avert potentially catastrophic incidents (see Daily GPI, April 5). The initiative included several proposals that are contained in the Senate pipe safety legislation.

The legislation, authored by Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), chairman of a Commerce subcommittee, would hike fines for violations of pipeline regulations to $2.5 million from $1 million; add civil penalties for obstructing investigations; and require the federal government to hire new inspection and enforcement personnel through a phased-in approach over the next four years.

In addition, it would require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on new transmission lines and would expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial buildings.

Moreover, the Rockefeller-Lautenberg bill calls on the DOT secretary to establish time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state governmental officials, and to determine whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high-consequence areas and establish regulations as appropriate.

The legislation would reauthorize and strengthen the authority of DOT's pipe safety agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, through fiscal year 2014.

The proposed safety measures come in the wake of the Sept. 9 explosion of the PG&E line, which killed eight people, wounded dozens and destroyed a number of homes in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, Dec. 20, 2010). The National Transportation Safety Board still is working to determine the cause of the blast.

In February a pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA, killed five people, including a four-month-old child (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11). The blast, which was apparently triggered by a "break" in UGI Corp.'s underground natural gas pipeline, affected a total of 47 properties, including 10 businesses, and forced more than 750 people to evacuate over a three-block area.

And in July 2010 a failure occurred in a 30-inch diameter Enbridge oil pipeline, releasing approximately 19,500 bbl of crude oil into a tributary creek of the Kalamazoo River in Marshall, MI.

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