Franks Plans New Pipeline Rules
Despite his promise to the gas industry last year that he wouldn't change the
Pipeline Safety Act of 1995 (see Daily GPI, March
19, 1999), Congressman Bob Franks (R-NJ), chairman of the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Subcommittee --- who also is running for a Senate seat
in his home state --- introduced a bill last week that would do just that.
His legislation joined a growing stack of pipeline safety bills that have
been introduced this session.
With the Pipeline Safety Act due to expire in September and the
Bellingham, WA, liquids pipeline explosion, which killed two
10-year-old boys and a young man, fresh in the minds of lawmakers,
pipeline safety has become a significant concern this year. The
Edison, NJ, explosion of the 36-inch diameter Texas Eastern natural
gas pipeline in 1994 also appears to still be fresh in the minds of
some New Jersey congressmen.
The Franks bill, titled the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act
(H.R. 4849), would significantly change and increase the safety
procedures for pipelines, including adding requirements that
pipelines conduct regular pigging and hydrostatic testing. The bill
also would give much greater power to the states in overseeing the
construction of new pipes and the operation of existing pipes. In
addition, it would raise sharply the penalties for any violations.
The Franks bill is similar to another piece of legislation introduced in
the Senate last month by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (S 2438). McCain's bill already
has been voted out of committee. There are several other pieces of pipeline
safety legislation, including the Clinton Administration's own bill (see NGI,
April 17; May 15;
and June 19). It appears quite possible that
pipeline safety legislation will be passed during the current Congressional
session, pipeline industry officials admit.
Pipeline representatives aren't too pleased, however, with the
situation. They would much rather see a simple reauthorization of
the existing Pipeline Safety Act. But they believe they are making
progress on the new bills and expect to see a version of the Franks
and McCain bills passed.
"Probably the most important thing about this bill," said one
pipeline official, referring to the Franks legislation, "is that it
has a bias in favor of mandating the use of smart pigs or
hydrostatic testing with respect to inspecting pipelines. We're
concerned about mandating specific techniques over others. Only
about 30% of our pipeline mileage can accommodate smart pigs. With
hydrostatic testing, you have to take the line out of service for a
while, and then you run the risk of weakening the pipeline and
causing further problems down the road. It's potentially a
destructive test on the pipeline, and some of the problems that you
could create may not manifest themselves for a while."
The second issue pipeline officials are concerned about is
having to consult with state and local officials in developing
pipeline integrity plans. That requirement is in the Franks and
McCain bills and is part of a new rule being drafted at the
Department of Transportation. Each pipeline would have to create
its own pipeline integrity program. The bill essentially would
require the pipelines to consult with all the state and local
governments with jurisdiction over the land they cross, which could
shut down many project entirely.
"When you have several thousand political subdivisions that you
have to deal with and each one wants A,B,C, and D and they are not
necessarily compatible, it's a real recipe for a mess," the
pipeline official noted. "What we're saying is there ought to be
some process where the interests of state and local governments can
be involved through an interview with the Secretary of
Transportation on a specific project. That doesn't require the
operator to get everybody to sign off. If everyone had to sign off,
it would ensure that these things drag on forever. I think the goal
should be to get these integrity plans put in place."
The bill as currently drafted also suggests that states could
create their own unique pipeline oversight methods. "We're not
exactly sure what that means, but it doesn't sound good," the
industry official said. "If you have individual states requiring
different things, it creates problems in managing the pipelines and
may actually create deliverability problems as well and conflict
between the states. We don't have a problem with the states being
responsible for inspections where those states get permission from
DOT to do that and operate under the federal guidelines. Allowing
states to go beyond the federal guidelines or outside of federal
oversight would cause problems."
What's worse for pipelines, particularly those cited for
violations, is the bill's proposed increase in civil penalties.
Certain penalties would be doubled to $1 million and others would
increase to $500,000 from only $25,000 depending on the violation.
"We haven't really heard any good justification for increasing
the civil penalties. We're not crazy about it but it's not a
priority issue for us," the pipeline official said.
The legislation also provides an additional $500,000 in funding
to expand and improve state one-call programs as well as other
public awareness efforts that are aimed at preventing damage from
The bill is co-sponsored by nine other congressmen. It has been
referred to the House Commerce Committee.