Industry, lawmakers praise passage of pipeline safety bill
Industry reemphasized its support for pipeline safety reauthorization legislation that passed Congress this week by unanimous consent.
WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 15 -- Industry reemphasized its support for pipeline safety reauthorization legislation that passed Congress this week by unanimous consent.
"Nothing is more important to our industry than safety, and we've been working for legislation that gives regulators the muscle they need. This bill does the job," said Benjamin S. Cooper, executive director of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.
President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law shortly, industry officials said.
The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 requires that pipelines be inspected within the next 10 years to prevent leaks and ruptures. Pipelines in urbanized areas are to be checked within the first 5 years of enactment. All pipelines must be reinspected every 7 years following the first 10-year interval specified under the legislation (OGJ, Nov. 11, 2002, p. 70).
"We're pleased that Congress has finally completely taken action. As of today the bill is the best compromise we could reach," said a spokesman for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
The legislation reauthorizes the authority of the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety and gives regulators more power. The bill, for example, mandates approved qualification programs for key pipeline operating personnel; it also calls for a $100 million government-run research and development program on pipeline safety. It also strengthens One Call, the national system designed to deter damage caused by third-party excavators.
Civil penalties also are stricter under the legislation. Fines are now $500,000 instead of $25,000 for each facility operator failure to mark accurately the location of pipeline facilities in the vicinity of a demolition, excavation, tunneling or construction; or comply with safety standards, prepare and carry out an inspection and maintenance plan, allow access to records, or allow required entries or inspections. The bill also increases the maximum civil penalty for a related series of violations to $1 million from $100,000.
Lawmakers heralded the bill's passage, which came after 3 years of congressional debate. The measure almost died again this session because it was attached to a larger energy bill that failed to win consensus. But lawmakers ultimately opted to approve only pipeline safety, leaving other energy policy questions to the discretion of the new Congress that meets in January.
"Today's action will go a long way toward improving operation, construction, and safety of oil and natural gas pipelines, especially near homes, businesses, and recreational facilities," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.). "It is a significant piece of a much larger energy policy that our nation so desperately needs. My top priority for the new Congress will be to build on this progress and produce a bigger and better comprehensive national energy policy that will secure our energy future and reduce our dependence on volatile Middle Eastern countries for oil."
In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who helped broker the final compromise bill with the House, called the legislation "a major step toward improving pipeline safety in New Mexico and across the country.
"We need to look no further than our own state for evidence that there is a dire need to better maintain and monitor pipelines," Bingaman said. "We must do everything we can to ensure that the tragic explosion that took place outside Carlsbad 2 years ago does not happen again in New Mexico or anywhere in the country."