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NM Pipe Safety Bill Sails through House

February 26, 2001
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NM Pipe Safety Bill Sails through House

Intrastate pipeline safety legislation, which would give New Mexico authorities more oversight over lines running through the state, received unanimous support from the state's House last week. The bill comes six months after El Paso Natural Gas Co.'s South Mainline near Carlsbad exploded killing 12 people from an extended family who were camping on the Pecos River (see NGI, Sept. 4, 2000).

HB 279, sponsored by State Rep. John A. Heaton (D), amends the New Mexico Pipeline Safety Act and the current statutes related to public lands. The bill would add "hazardous liquid pipelines" in the law's regulatory scheme and would require compliance with federal law concerning internal and external surveillance of pipeline integrity. It also would require companies to install emergency flow restricting devices. New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission (PRC) rules also would have to "substantially conform" to federal pipeline safety rules under the legislation.

Following the El Paso explosion, an inspection by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the South Mainline had not been properly inspected for almost 48 years. It also found extensive corrosion within the pipe.

Both the federal government and states regulate pipeline safety, however, the federal government regulates interstate transportation while a state may regulate intrastate transportation if it is certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Currently, neither federal nor New Mexico laws specifically require internal and external surveillance of pipeline integrity nor do they require installing emergency flow restricting devices.

Heaton's bill would not cover existing pipelines unless the New Mexico PRC, after investigation and hearing, determined that a specific pipeline was hazardous to life or property.

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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