The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved pipeline safety legislation last week that significantly differs from the bill that emerged from subcommittee earlier this month.

The House bill (H.R. 3609) still would require initial inspections of natural gas pipelines in high-consequence areas to be carried out over 10 years if the Department of Transportation (DOT) fails to implement integrity management standards, but it revised the provision on re-inspections. The committee measure calls for re-inspections to be completed every seven years, while the subcommittee proposed that high-consequence gas lines be re-tested in accordance with American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) guidelines. The ASME recommends re-inspections be done at intervals of up to 10 years, or even longer for pipelines that exceed minimum integrity requirements.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) was not happy with the committee’s change in the re-inspection interval, but said it would accept it nevertheless “in the interest of seeing congressional progress on this important legislation.” The bill still must be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which probably will take it up in June. The Senate pipe safety measure, which has been incorporated in the broad energy bill, calls for initial inspections and re-tests to be done every five years. Currently, pipelines are under no deadlines to inspect their facilities.

The House legislation, which was approved by a margin of 55 to 13, would require DOT to adopt and implement new integrity management standards (including inspection deadlines) for gas pipelines operating in high-consequence areas within 18 months of enactment of the bill. However, if the agency fails to act by then, operators would be required to conduct initial inspections of all high-consequence gas pipelines within a 10-year period.

In addition to the change on re-inspections, the committee added a provision from the Senate’s pipe safety bill that would offer whistle-blower protections to pipeline employees, and modified a controversial section that called for streamlining the permitting process to allow pipes to carry out “repairs and rehabilitation” in the event of a leak or other emergency. “Some Democrats thought the language [on permit streamlining] was too broad. It has a more narrow focus now,” said one Capitol Hill observer.

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