President Bush is scheduled to sign into law this week legislation that imposes tougher inspection and other safety standards on interstate natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.

The president has until Dec. 20 (Friday) to put his signature on the “Pipeline Safety Improvement Act,” H.R. 3609, said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), which represents gas pipelines. A public signing of the bill, which both houses of Congress passed in mid-November, is not expected, he noted (See Daily GPI, Nov. 18).

The event will cap off four years of fighting within Congress and intense outside lobbying by pipeline groups, such as INGAA. “I’m not saying this is the best thing since free beer,” Edwards told NGI, but “we got the most reasonable bill that could be gotten out of this Congress.”

The tougher bill comes in the wake of two fatal pipeline explosions in the past three years — a blast on a petroleum products line in Bellingham, WA, that killed three persons in 1999, and a rupture and subsequent flare-up on El Paso Natural Gas in New Mexico in mid-2000, which killed 12 members of two extended families.

The most controversial part of the legislation focused on the inspection intervals for pipelines. Once signed into the law, it will require pipelines with the highest risk factors — or at least of half of existing gas pipe facilities — to complete inspections within five years, and the remainder of the gas pipelines to be inspected within the next five years. The new law also will require pipes to be re-examined again in seven years.

Other key provisions in the law will:

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