DOJ vows to prosecute vandalism at pipelines, other energy systems

Strong federal prosecutions will occur when individuals or groups vandalize oil and gas pipelines or other US energy transportation systems, the Department of Justice pledged. “This department is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who damage this critical energy infrastructure in violation of federal law,” a DOJ spokesperson said Nov. 10.

Strong federal prosecutions will occur when individuals or groups vandalize oil and gas pipelines or other US energy transportation systems, the Department of Justice pledged. “This department is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who damage this critical energy infrastructure in violation of federal law,” a DOJ spokesperson said Nov. 10.

The declaration was part of a response to an Oct. 23 letter US Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and 69 other House members sent Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions asking whether DOJ took any prosecutorial or investigative actions after four major crude oil pipelines in multiple states were attacked more than a year earlier (OGJ Online, Oct. 12, 2016).

“This is a critically important issue. Oil and natural gas pipelines provide vital services to millions of Americans,” DOJ’s statement noted. “Attempts to damage or shut them down not only deprive local communities of these services, but can put American lives at risk, cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and threaten our environment.”

The Association of Oil Pipe Lines applauded DOJ’s statement. “The federal government can provide a deterrent to anyone getting hurt or causing a pipeline release into the environment,” AOPL Pres. Andrew J. Black said.

Operators place shut-off valves periodically along the length of a pipeline to help control the flow of product and isolate certain segments of pipe if needed, Black noted. But pipelines operate under as much as 1,000 psi of pressure, and incorrectly closing a valve in the middle of a line without simultaneous control of pumps before and after the valves could cause a pressure surge, rupture the pipeline, and cause a spill, he said.

An industry review of pipeline valve incidents found nine different examples of pressure surge releases with 1ne resulting in nearly 4,000 bbl of crude oil spilled, Black said. “For these reasons, pipeline facilities behind lock and key are protected for the safety of the public,” he said. “Vandalizing, attempting to operate or otherwise tampering with pipeline equipment is dangerous and risks hurting those involved, the public, or the environment.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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