The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT)has found severe shortcomings in the inspection practices andtraining of federal pipeline inspectors at DOT’s Office of PipelineSafety (OPS), according to a preliminary report. The unfavorableDOT report comes in the wake of a number of legislative measures onCapitol Hill seeking to reauthorize the Federal Pipeline SafetyAct.

Among the key findings, the department’s Inspector General saidthe Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), whichoversees the OPS, has failed to implement inspection standards toprotect highly populated and environmentally sensitive areas as wasmandated by Congress in both the 1992 and 1996 Pipeline SafetyActs.

Moreover, the report said OPS research and development programshave not developed internal inspection devices, called “smartpigs,” capable of detecting seam weld defects that often lead topipeline ruptures. Nor has OPS examined or developed alternativepipeline inspection technologies for pipelines that cannot usesmart pigs. The pipeline industry estimates that 80% oftransmission pipelines fit into the latter category.

The IG also said RSPA safety inspectors weren’t trained in theuse ofinternal inspection devices, and couldn’t read or interpretthe results of internal inspections conducted by operators ofpipelines. And, the OPS doesn’t collect sufficient data toaccurately determine accident causes and trends, and to evaluatesafety performance measures, the report noted.

The DOT conducted the review of its inspection practices andtraining methods at the request of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), whointroduced a pipeline safety bill earlier this year that wouldgreatly expand the safety-inspection authority of states over alltypes of pipelines, including interstate natural gas lines.

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