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Senate Lawmakers Introduce Pipeline Safety Bill

After withering criticism of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) this summer in the U.S. House of Representatives, a bipartisan group of four lawmakers in the Senate has introduced a bill to reauthorize the program through 2019 and make other changes.

Last Tuesday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Steve Daines (R-MT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced a bill to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Its top provision calls for improving the turnaround time of inspection reports by PHMSA, an agency within the Department of Transportation (DOT). It would also require quicker dialogue between the agency and an operator following an inspection.

The bill is titled the Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE PIPES) Act.

During a speech on the Senate floor last Tuesday in support of the bill, Daines said Montana annually produces about 30 million bbl of crude oil, 60 Bcf of natural gas and 42 million short tons of coal. He added that the oil and gas industry employs more than 43,000 people in the state, and the state's tourism industry supports another 53,000 workers.

"It is needless to say, but it is imperative that both [oil and gas industry and tourism] jobs are protected," Daines said, according to the Congressional Record. "This legislation does just that...I look forward to continuing my work, along with my colleagues, on enhancing pipeline safety, protecting our economic and environmental resources, and shepherding this legislation across the finish line."

PHMSA oversees 2.6 million miles of pipeline across the United States.

Under the SAFE PIPES Act, pipeline river crossings would be added to PHMSA's integrity management review process. The agency would, among other things, also be given direct authority to hire personnel and fill vacant inspector positions.

The bill would also require the DOT secretary to submit reports to two committees -- the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure -- on the status of final rules required under a safety law enacted in 2011.

Another provision would allow imposing fees for underground natural gas storage facilities. Revenue from the fees would go to funding underground natural gas storage safety accounts.

The American Gas Association (AGA) issued a 74-page assessment on natural gas pipeline safety last Tuesday, and also urged Congress to reauthorize PHMSA. "The past 15 years have included more pipeline safety mandates and rulemakings than any other decade since the creation of the federal pipeline safety code in 1971 and they are working," said Christina Sames, AGA's vice president for operations and engineering.

Last July, House lawmakers blasted PHMSA for failing to implement all sections of a pipeline safety law enacted in 2011 -- specifically, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 (see Daily GPI,July 14). The criticism was leveled after a pair of oil spills in California and Illinois, which lawmakers blamed on the agency's inaction.

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