President Obama has signed into law pipeline safety legislation (HR 2845), which was one of the few energy issues that congressional Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on in 2011 (see NGI, Dec. 19, 2011).

“The pipeline safety legislation signed into law [Tuesday] by the president represents a balanced, bipartisan accomplishment that will significantly improve the safety of natural gas pipelines and bolster public confidence in our nation’s energy infrastructure,” said Greg Ebel, chairman of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and CEO of Houston-based Spectra Energy.

Under HR 2845, the secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) will be empowered to impose a civil penalty on operators that obstruct or prevent safety inspections or investigations. The bill also requires the use of automatic remote-controlled shut-off valves on pipelines constructed or entirely replaced after the date on which the DOT secretary issues a final rule. Safety proponents criticized the safety bill because it would grandfather older pipelines from being required to install certain safety technology, such as automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

Among other things, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 will:

The increased penalties and tougher pipe safety requirements come in the wake of several gas explosions, including the Sept. 9, 2010 Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, and the pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA, which killed five people (see NGI, Feb. 14, 2011; Sept. 13, 2010).

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