With the memory of the deadly explosion of the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) transmission line still fresh in peoples' minds, two measures have been introduced in the Senate to improve the safety of pipelines.

Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Commerce Committee; and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), chairman of a Commerce subcommittee, offered legislation that 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 39 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 would require the secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) 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 safety measures being proposed for natural gas, oil and hazardous pipelines are more stringent due to the Sept. 9 explosion of the PG&E line, which killed eight people and destroyed 35 homes in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, Dec. 20, 2010).

A second bill, proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), also would require the installation of electronic or remote-control shutoff valves capable of automatically shutting off the gas in a fire or other emergency; mandate the use of inspection devices called "smart pigs;" and bar gas pipelines from operating at high pressure if they cannot be inspected using the most effective technology.

If the PG&E pipeline had automatic or remotely controlled valves to shut off the gas flowing through the pipeline, "we wouldn't be here," Boxer told a Commerce subcommittee following the San Bruno explosion (see Daily GPI, Sept. 29, 2010).

The Sept. 9 inferno burned for one hour and 29 minutes before gas to the 30-inch diameter pipeline could be turned off at two different locations, Feinstein said. To turn off the two valves -- one located a mile from the explosion and the other 1.5 miles away -- she said a worker had to drive through rush hour traffic, use a key to get into the area where one valve was and attach a handle to the valve to crank it.

As a result, it took more than five hours to turn off all the distribution lines to the homes that were on fire, Feinstein said.

In addition, the measure directs the DOT secretary to set standards for natural gas leak detection equipment and methods. There currently are no uniform national standards for how to detect leaks.

Like the Rockefeller-Lautenberg bill, the Feinstein-Boxer measure proposes increasing civil penalties for safety violations; expanding data collection to be included in the national pipeline mapping system; closing jurisdictional loopholes to assure greater oversight of unregulated pipelines; and requiring consideration of a firm's safety record when considering its request for regulatory waivers.

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