Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the HouseCommerce Committee, has called on Transportation Secretary RodneyE. Slater to undertake a “thorough review and restructuring” of thedepartment’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) in the wake of a newreport that contends the agency has become too cozy with thepipelines it is supposed to be regulating.

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) report combined with therecent report by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) InspectorGeneral “paints a picture of an agency that places disturbingamounts of faith in the industry it is supposed to regulate, and isunable or willing to carry out any of its responsibility under thelaw,” wrote Dingell, who commissioned the GAO report, in a June 14letter to Slater.

It concluded that OPS has an “abysmal” record of monitoring andoverseeing natural gas and hazardous product pipelines, Dingellsaid, and that its officials continue to “brazenly thumb theirnoses” at the administration and Congress by consistently failingto carry out directions with respect to pipeline safety standards.

Although OPS’s enforcement action increased by 132% between 1990and 1998, the agency in many of the cases opted to send letters tothe pipeline safety violators rather than imposing monetarypenalties, the GAO said. It estimated the OPS’s use of penaltiesdropped by more than 90% between 1990 and 1998, while the agency’suse of letters rose to 68% by 1998. And even in cases wherepenalties were levied, they were “relatively insignificant comparedto pipeline revenues,” and were only “occasionally collected” bythe agency, Dingell said of the GAO findings.

At the same time, the number of major pipeline accidentsresulting in death, injury or more than $50,000 in property damagerose 4% annually between 1989 and 1998, according to the report.Major pipeline accidents killed 226 people, injured more than 1,030and caused about $700 million in property damage during that period— with about 43% of the accidents occurring on natural gasdistribution lines, the GAO said.

In contrast, hazardous liquid pipelines, which account for thesmallest portion of total pipeline mileage, actually have almosteight times as many major accidents per mile as gas distributionlines, while natural gas transmission lines have about three timesas many major accidents, the report contends.

Despite this accident rate, the OPS historically has had thelowest rate of any transportation agency for implementing therecommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),as well as the mandates of Congress. The GAO report contends theOPS has failed to implement nearly half of the 49 requirementsmandated by Congress since 1988 to improve the safety of pipelinesand enhance the agency’s ability to oversee the pipeline industry.For example, it pointed out that the OPS failed to evaluate andmake recommendations on whether risk-management principles shouldbe incorporated into the federal pipeline safety program.

As such, including risk management in OPS regulations “isunjustified at this time because OPS has yet to produce a shred ofcredible, quantifiable evidence to support its claim that allowingindustry to police itself is beneficial to the protection of publichealth and the environment,” Dingell told DOT’s Slater.

The GAO report further assailed the OPS for attempting todiscontinue the use of the states to help conduct inspections ofinterstate pipelines.

©Copyright 2000 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. Thepreceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, inwhole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent ofIntelligence Press, Inc.