Largely in response to an explosion on a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline that killed at least four people last Friday, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood sent legislation to Capitol Hill Wednesday that seeks to increase oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline system.

“The nation’s pipelines, our energy highways, are by far the safest way to quickly transport large volumes of fuels and other hazardous liquids over long distances,” he said. “However as the recent pipelines failures near Marshall, MI, and Romeoville, IL, have shown, as well as the tragic gas pipeline explosion in Northern California, the department needs stronger authority to ensure the continued safety and reliability of our nation’s pipeline network,” LaHood added (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13).

The legislation, “Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2010,” would boost maximum penalties for serious pipeline violations involving deaths, injuries or major environmental harm to $2.5 million from $1 million. It also would add 40 inspection and enforcement personnel at DOE over the next four years.

The bill was forwarded to Congress one day after LaHood announced $5.9 million in funding for 17 research projects to develop new, innovative solutions to improve pipeline safety and protect the environment.

In addition, the pipe safety bill calls for a review of whether existing regulations mandating the strictest safety requirements only for “high-consequence” areas — urban centers, sensitive areas or navigable waterways — should be applied to entire pipelines, including sections located in rural areas, according to DOT.

The proposal would remove exemptions from safety regulations for pipelines that gather hazardous liquids — oil and oil byproducts — upstream of transmission pipelines. It also would authorize the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to gather additional data on pipelines, including information on previously unregulated lines.

And, via the legislation, the department said it hopes to achieve better coordination with states and other agencies on inspector training and oversight of pipeline and expansion projects involving both natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.

DOT said its proposal would ensure that standards are in place for biofuel and carbon fuel pipelines, as well as amend the definition of hazardous liquids to expressly include all biofuels and subject their transportation to DOT safety standards.

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