US House unanimously passes federal pipeline safety legislation

The US House unanimously approved federal pipeline legislation on Dec. 12 that would reauthorize and strengthen pipeline safety programs through the 2015 fiscal year, improve enforcement of current laws and fill legal gaps where necessary, and address National Transportation Safety Board recommendations from recent incidents.

Approval came 4 days after Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) and Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), HR 2845’s sponsors, announced that a bipartisan, bicameral agreement had been reached on the measure which now moves to the US Senate.

“Safety and jobs are our highest priorities, and this bipartisan measure will both strengthen federal pipeline safety programs and provide a common sense regulatory approach that will encourage—not stifle—job creation,” Mica said following the vote. “This measure is supported by safety advocates and industry, and I urge the Senate to take this bill up as soon as possible.”

Leaders of oil and gas industry groups quickly expressed their approval. “This important piece of legislation updates and improves policies in several areas of pipeline safety, including integrity management, incident notification, public education and awareness, damage prevention and pipeline safety research and development,” said Donald F. Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. “We believe these congressional efforts will result in a safer, more reliable pipeline system nationwide.”

American Gas Association Pres. Dave McCurdy, meanwhile, said, “The endorsement of this bill brings us one step closer to reaching our ultimate goal, which is getting a final bill passed and on the desk for [US President Barack] Obama’s signature this year.”

Andrew J. Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipelines, said AOPL particularly liked the bill’s provision directing the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to no longer allow state and local governments and their contractors to be exempt from excavation notification requirements. He expressed hope that Congress and PHMSA will eliminate other One-Call exemptions in the future.

“AOPL is concerned about a new provision that could require public disclosure of response plans without protections that ensure security sensitive and proprietary information will not fall into the wrong hands,” Black continued. He said that the organization and its members believe in fully sharing information with government and emergency response officials, but warned that national security and pipeline operations could be threatened if certain classes of information were made public.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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