Senate ready to act on pipeline safety legislation

After President-elect George W. Bush�s cabinet appointees are confirmed, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will probably schedule more hearings on pipeline safety legislation, a committee aide said this week.

Jan 8th, 2001

Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

After President-elect George W. Bush�s cabinet appointees are confirmed, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will likely schedule more hearings on pipeline safety legislation, a committee aide said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), committee chairman, �will probably reintroduce legislation as soon as possible. He feels this is an urgent matter to accomplish before more lives are lost,� said staff member Pia Pialorsi.

The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, S. 2438, was approved by unanimous consent of the US Senate in September, but couldn�t get the necessary votes in the House. However, the issue remains �a high priority� for McCain, said Pialorsi.

That bill reauthorizing expiring pipeline regulation also would have required periodic checks of operation safety and implementation of integrity management programs for US pipelines. It would have required pipeline operators to sponsor continuing public education programs on related safety matters.

That legislation would have increased maximum civil penalties to $100,000 for a single violation, up from $25,000 currently; and to $1 million for a series of safety violations, up from $500,000. It would have allowed states to participate in the oversight of interstate pipelines through agreements with the US Department of Transportation, and provided for collaborative research and development, directed by the DOT with the assistance of the Department of Energy and the National Academy of Sciences.

It further directed DOT to collect pipeline data to evaluate operator performance and analyze incident trends.

Opponents in the House said they wanted stronger pipeline safety legislation. But when the House failed to pass the Senate bill by 28 votes in early October, an irate McCain blamed partisan politics.

Although that bill did not address all the safety issues that some wanted, McCain claimed it was �the strongest bill possible at this time.�

The senator said, �I do not relish voicing criticism toward House opponents of S. 2438. But � these and the other members working with them will be even less pleased by the criticisms I will be directing their way if even one more life is lost because of our inaction.�

DOT efforts
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department has authority to impose new measures on its own, said Stacey Gerard, associate administrator for pipeline safety at the Research & Special Programs Administration.

On Dec. 1, DOT Sec. Rodney E. Slater issued a notice of proposed rulemaking for better corrosion prevention, control, and detection in hazardous liquid pipelines. Corrosion is the second leading cause of accidents in such pipelines, officials said.

The rulemaking proposal will focus on establishing criteria for measuring cathodic protection of pipelines and clarifying methods of inspecting pipes without such protection, including nonelectrical inspections of bare pipe where electrical surveys are impractical.

Officials also are looking at amending the safety standard to require operators to inspect the condition of coating when they investigate exposed pipe. And they�re considering requiring �highly technical� qualifications for supervisors of corrosion control programs.

RSPA has scheduled hearings Feb. 12-13 on the proposed rulemaking.

�We�re working with industry and the state governments to develop a nondestructive safety testing process that will give us a clear picture of risks,� Gerard said.

But any new testing and safety requirements will be �system specific,� since �so much investment has gone into this infrastructure and some pipeline companies have done more than they�re required,� she said.

Most past and pending legislative proposals on pipeline safety center on the same issues, Gerard said, �including more opportunities for states to participate in the process. We want to open it up for states to work with us in an advisory capacity on interstate pipelines.�

Officials of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America agree that states should have an appropriate role in helping regulate interstate systems, which account for more than 70% of total US pipeline mileage.

Almost all legislative proposals also include provisions for safety research, emphasizing a more collaborative effort. �There�s too much of a trend now toward 'stove-piping,' with each department doing its own research,� said Gerard.

Companies supportive
Colonial Pipeline Co., Atlanta, the recent target of a massive federal lawsuit for pipeline spills, said it plans to work with industry and government officials for better safety legislation.

�Colonial supported S. 2438 reauthorizing pipeline regulation during the past Congress,� said Steve Baker, company spokesman.

However, he said, �As with any oversight effort, we believe improvements are possible in the way our industry is regulated.�

Like the industry as a whole, Colonial is committed to improving pipeline safety, Baker said.

�We will continue to support efforts to improve pipeline regulation because we believe better regulations will protect our environment. Safe operation of the pipeline is Colonial�s No.1 priority,� he said.

El Paso Energy Co. also supported S. 2438 last year and would support similar legislation this year, said a company spokesman.

The rupture of a subsidiary El Paso Natural Gas Co. pipeline near Carlsbad, NM, in August killed 12 people, including five children. Since that accident is still under investigation, officials said, it�s impossible to say if additional safety regulations could have prevented it.

Meanwhile, a pipeline mapping project that began as a volunteer program some years ago is still underway. �We�ve worked with the US Geological Survey and other government agencies to standardize an approach to mapping,� said Gerard.

�The liquid pipelines industry has been aggressive in its mapping program. About 70% of the liquid pipelines have been mapped,� she said. �The gas pipeline industry is a little behind but could finish mapping this year.�

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