The Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) should lead the development of risk-informed land use guidance for future pipeline construction in the face of increasing urbanization and the projected need for many additional miles of energy fuels pipelines, according to a report by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.

The report, “Transmission Pipelines and Land Use, A Risk-Informed Approach,” was authorized in the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002. It noted that although the number of pipeline accidents is relatively low compared to other forms of freight transportation, “judicious land use decisions” can reduce the risk of accidents to pipelines and people. Pipeline incidents, including natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines, resulted in an average of about 24 fatalities per year from 1989 to 2000. An average 66 people die each year in barge accidents, 590 in railroad accidents and about 5,100 in truck accidents.

“Possible land use techniques include establishing setbacks, regulating or prohibiting certain types of structures (such as schools, hospitals and apartment buildings) and uses near transmission lines; and encouraging, through site and community planning, other types of activities and facilities (e.g., linear parks, recreational paths) within or in the vicinity of pipeline rights-of-way.”

Risk-informed land use guidance could include model local zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, and planning policies and model state legislation. Since local governments lack the resources to undertake complex risk studies on their own, the federal government could provide leadership in development of risk-informed land use guidance for application by state and local governments, the report said.

Several things would go into a risk-informed approach. The probability of pipeline failure is dependent on interrelated factors, including materials of construction, fabrication, corrosion, effectiveness of pipeline coatings and cathodic protection systems. The consequences of an event could be estimated on the basis of the product carried, degree of pressurization, depth of cover, surrounding development and other considerations, the report said.

The report suggested OPS should direct the collaboration of a full range of public and private stakeholders in the formulation of guidelines and the work should be conducted by persons with expertise in risk analysis, risk communication, land use management and development regulation.

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