DOT fines El Paso unit for pipeline safety violations

The US Department of Transportation has fined El Paso Corp. and its Colorado Interstate Gas Co. subsidiary a record $2.3 million on Dec. 1 for violating federal pipeline safety regulations.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 7 -- The US Department of Transportation has fined El Paso Corp. and its Colorado Interstate Gas Co. subsidiary a record $2.3 million on Dec. 1 for violating federal pipeline safety regulations.

It also ordered the companies to take specific actions to comply with regulations and ensure safety following an investigation by DOT’s Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration of a November 2006 pipeline explosion in Laramie County, Wyo., which killed a construction worker.

The civil penalty was the largest ever assessed against a pipeline under the government’s administrative authority. “Pipeline and other underground facility damage is almost entirely preventable,” said PHSMA Administrator Cynthia L. Quartermain. “Pipeline operators must be the first line of defense in protecting the public from incidents related to their systems.”

On Nov. 11, 2006, a 36-in. gas transmission pipeline in Laramie County, Wyo., which a second El Paso subsidiary, Wyoming Interstate Co. Ltd., owned and CIG operated, was struck by a bulldozer as its operator tried to grade land nearby to build a right-of-way for the Rockies Express Pipeline, PHMSA said. The contact with the high-pressure line released gas, which ignited in an explosion and fire, killing the bulldozer’s operator.

PHMSA said its investigation found that the companies did not comply with federal regulations covering the locating and marking of buried pipelines. Those regulations require pipeline operators to establish and follow procedures properly locating and marking their underground systems before excavation begins to prevent accidental contact and safety risks.

The agency’s compliance order requires the companies to revise corporate procedures for making construction records, maps, and operating history available to appropriate personnel. They also will be required to implement written procedures so managers and supervisors can conduct unannounced reviews of line locaters’ work to assure that procedures are understood, are being followed, and are effective, the federal regulatory agency said.

The order also specifies that El Paso and CIG will develop and implement training for all supervisors and manages to assure that they understand El Paso surveillance procedures and will be able to intervene in unsafe or hazardous situations, PHMSA said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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