Railroad commissioner seeks expansion of Texas' pipeline role

Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza last week proposed legislative and administrative changes to strengthen the state's pipeline disruption notification program. Garza also urged the US House of Representatives to approve a Senate-passed bill that would maintain the Texas Railroad Commission's role in interstate pipeline inspections. Early this summer he had urged Congress to eliminate restrictions on state agencies in pipeline inspections in Federal Pipeline Safety Act (S 2438).


Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza last week proposed legislative and administrative changes to an earlier proposal aimed at strengthening the state's pipeline disruption notification program.

Garza also urged the US House of Representatives to approve a Senate-passed bill that would maintain the Texas Railroad Commission's role in interstate pipeline inspections. Early this summer he had urged Congress to eliminate restrictions on state agencies in pipeline inspections in Federal Pipeline Safety Act (S 2438).

The commission oversees the state's oil, gas, petroleum transportation, rail, and mining industries.

In a June 13 letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)�chairman of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation�regarding S 2438, Garza asked the Senate to provide flexibility for state programs to participate in interstate inspection activities.

In its original form, S 2438 would have removed the option for states to request status to conduct field inspections and limit state participation to accident investigations and new construction activities only. Garza's request to allow state involvement without limits on inspections was written into S 2438, which the Senate approved Sept. 7, and was waiting consideration by the House.

Passing S 2438 in its original form, said Garza, would have left 10 inspectors with the Office of Pipeline Safety to cover inspections in the five-state region that includes Texas. Garza pointed out in his letter that Texas has 30 pipeline safety inspectors for the state's 150,000 miles of pipeline.

At the state level, Garza announced other legislative and administrative changes to improve the state's pipeline disruption notification program.

The One Call system requires excavators to call before digging to prevent pipeline damage. Garza plans to improve the effectiveness of the One Call system by combining call center operations, raising the fines for first-time offenders to no less than $1,000, raising the fine to $2,500 for repeat offenders, and setting the maximum fine at $10,000. The current fine is $50.

Garza also plans to lower the number of parties exempt from having to register and call in to the center, bringing the Texas system closer to the recommended national standards.

Texas' state legislature approved the federal notification program for implementation in Texas in 1997. The program went into effect in October 1998.

A commission spokesperson said Texas was the last state to ratify the program, due to debate on details of the state bill.

Garza also wants to increase the number of pipeline inspections done in Texas. The commission is trying to determine how many miles of the state's pipelines were built before pressure testing was required.

Garza also lauded Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael L. Williams's proposed rule change, which calls for three mandatory reports regarding plastic pipes. His proposal would require operators to report material failures on plastic pipe installations; report the removal or installation of plastic pipe from their systems; and perform a inventory of all plastic pipe in a pipeline system by date of installation.

The commission said keeping an inventory by date would allow it to identify problems with plastic pipes sooner.

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