OGJ Washington Editor
WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 1 -- The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America anticipates congressional passage of a comprehensive federal pipeline safety bill in 2011, laying out a number of aggressive goals and delegating the details to the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, an INGAA official said.
Martin E. Edwards, INGAA’s vice-president for legislative affairs, said he expects legislation to reauthorize the 2002 federal pipeline safety law to take integrity management programs that the law imposed to the next level. “It’s fair and expected for both the industry and regulator to do this,” he told reporters at a Feb. 28 briefing at INGAA’s headquarters.
US Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) have already introduced a bill that Edwards said might be marked up by the end of April and sent to the Senate floor. He said that a bill in the US House could take longer since it probably will need to come through the Transportation and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is having to deal with highway matters first and probably won’t be able to get to pipeline safety until May.
The issue has received more public attention than usual in the past year because of several high-profile accidents, including a Sept. 9 gas utility pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, Calif., which killed 8 people and destroyed 37 homes. The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a hearing in Washington on Mar. 1-3 as part of its ongoing investigation of the accident.
Interstate gas pipelines have a good, but not perfect, safety record, Edwards said. “INGAA members recognize that continuous improvement is a fact of life,” he observed.
The 2002 federal pipeline safety law addressed integrity management, which added a line of authority on pipeline segments in populated areas that is almost fully implemented now, according to Edwards. PHMSA and the industry have begun to evaluate its impacts now that it is nearly 10 years old and will discuss with federal lawmakers what to do next, he said.
Some interstate pipelines actually had stiffer criteria before the 2002 law was enacted, but it allowed new technology to be applied that allowed companies to make comparisons, noted Terry Boss, INGAA’s senior vice-president, environment, safety, and operations. “There are common measurements being used between companies now because of it,” he said during the briefing. Pipeline operators also have set a very high technical bar for materials they use in their systems now and INGAA has been working with manufacturers on this, he added.
Edwards said PHMSA’s pipeline safety budget would rise 14% in the US Department of Transportation’s fiscal 2012 budget request, which is consistent with previous years’ proposals. He said that neither the Obama administration’s budget request nor the Lautenberg-Rockefeller bill proposes user fees for gas utilities’ operations regulated by PHMSA. “This has been a glaring hole for 26 years,” said Edwards. “Everyone should pay a fee appropriate to its costs.”
He said that pipeline safety matters to the industry because it will need to build a lot of capacity in the next few years. “Public perceptions that pipelines aren’t safe will lead to more opposition. Pipelines need to stay in front of this,” Edwards maintained.
Contact Nick Snow at email@example.com.