The nation's association of state regulators on Tuesday established a new working group to address natural gas pipeline safety advocacy programs that have taken on renewed emphasis after a series of major accidents in the pipeline industry in the past six months.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Pipeline Safety Task Force will interact with NARUC's member public service commissioners, the federal government, consumer groups and industry stakeholders. NARUC's advocacy before Congress and federal agencies will be led by the new group, according to NARUC President Tony Clark, a regulator from North Dakota.

Noting its charter will "evolve," Clark said the new task force will help analyze pipeline safety issues, discuss best practices and lead the advocacy efforts. It will coordinate and direct an effort by the state regulators to weigh in on pipeline safety.

Clark named state commissioners from different regions of the nation to serve on the pipeline group. Arkansas Public Service Commission Chair Colette Honorable will lead the task forces, along with Timothy Alan Simon from California (West), John Coleman of Pennsylvania (Mid-Atlantic), Paul Roberti of Rhode Island (New England) and Swain Whitfield of South Carolina (Southeast). Simon heads NARUC's gas committee, and Honorable also represents the Mid-America Regulatory Conference on the panel.

NARUC has ongoing pipeline-related work in its pipeline safety subcommittee and the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives. The new task force will "supplement and bolster" that ongoing work, Honorable said.

"Pipeline safety is and always has been job number one," said Clark. "State utility regulators take this issue seriously and personally. NARUC has always had a strong pipeline safety support program, but this new task force will give our members the opportunity to formally interact more with each other, our federal agency partners, Congress and our industry and consumer groups."

He called his fellow state regulator, Arkansas' Honorable, "the right person for the job."

The task force intends to meet regularly, using conference calls for the most part, Honorable said. When needed, they will make the meeting in-person gatherings, she said. NARUC covers the regulatory panels in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The spotlight on pipeline safety has never been brighter than in the wake of a recent string of pipeline incidents, which claimed the lives of 13 people. Last September an explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline killed eight people and destroyed 35 homes in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, Nov. 2, 2010; Sept. 13, 2010). Last month five people were killed in the explosion of an underground gas line in Allentown, PA, owned by utility UGI Corp. (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14; Feb. 11). Also last month a segment of the 36-inch diameter Tennessee Gas Pipeline, owned and operated by El Paso Corp., exploded and caused a fire near Dungannon, OH (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14).

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