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Pipeline Safety Programs Take on More Importance

Industry reaction to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood's call Monday for more attention to pipeline safety was swift, indicating that the emphasis on pipeline integrity management promises to grow following several pipeline incidents in the past six months. The industry basically has been on its toes since the Sept. 9 pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA.

Both the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Interstate Natural Gas Supply Association America (INGAA) backed LaHood's call for comprehensive reviews of the nation's pipeline operators. AGA and INGAA said they shared the DOT head's call for "swift action."

In California Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) said "me, too," responding to LaHood's call, emphasizing that the combination utility already is well along in its federal and state regulatory-encouraged efforts to update the testing and verification for all of the maximum allowable operating pressures on its various transmission pipelines in high-consequence areas.

"We've already launched a comprehensive initiative that will guide our efforts to strengthen the system and advance industry best practices over the coming decades [Pipeline 2020 program]," a PG&E spokesperson told NGI Monday, following LaHood's speech (see Daily GPI, April 5). PG&E's program calls for fully modernizing its 6,000 miles of transmission pipeline infrastructure, adding automatic shutoff valves in a wider stretch of its service territory and helping develop "the next generation of pipeline inspection technology."

LaHood's rolling out of the DOT's pipeline safety plan included several proposals that were contained in legislation sent to Congress last year following the San Bruno tragedy.

AGA CEO Dave McCurdy underscored the industry's support for LaHood's plan, noting that operators in the gas industry are "actively working on distribution and transmission integrity management programs. It is critical that these effort are maintained and that we carefully monitor pipeline infrastructure."

AGA used the occasion to promote its annual National Safe Digging Month, promoting the need for contractors to use the national "811" hotline to get the locations of local utility infrastructure underground. Both AGA and INGAA emphasize that excavation damage is a leading cause of incidents involving gas pipelines.

Noting that its board recently established a set of five guiding principles for pipeline safety, INGAA CEO Don Santa said the pipeline industry group has a safety task force charged with looking at ways the industry can "improve safety performance and restore public confidence in the natural gas pipeline infrastructure." Santa pledged that INGAA will be working with DOT and LaHood "as a strong, committed partner."

DOT's proposal calls for not only more stringent integrity management of pipelines, but for stiffer penalties and more authority for the federal transportation unit to eliminate "loopholes" in the existing federal regulations.

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