DOT secretary launches pipeline safety initiative

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 5 -- US Department of Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood launched a national safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines following several accidents, including one in Allentown, Pa., that killed 5 people.

LaHood, who asked pipeline owners and operators in March to review their systems and accelerate critical repairs and replacements, said on Apr. 4 in Allentown that federal legislation strengthening pipeline safety oversight will be introduced. DOT and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will also hold a pipeline safety forum Apr. 18 in Washington to hear from state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders, he indicated.

LaHood also called on Congress to increase the maximum civil penalties for pipeline violations to $250,000/day from $100,000/day, and to $2.5 million from $1 million for a series of violations. He urged Congress to authorize DOT to close regulatory loopholes, strengthen risk management requirements, add more inspectors, and improve data reporting to help identify potential pipeline safety risks early.

DOT’s pipeline safety action plan will address immediate concerns in pipeline safety, such as ensuring pipeline operators know the age and condition of their pipelines; proposing new regulations to strengthen reporting and inspection requirements; and making information about pipelines and the safety record of pipeline operators easily accessible to the public, according to officials.

They said PHMSA also will create a web site to provide the public—as well as community planners, builders, and utility companies—with clear and easy to understand information about their local pipeline networks. Ensuring the public has access to information about local pipelines will help keep people safe and reduce the potential for serious accidents, they indicated.

‘A responsibility’
“To the American public, it doesn’t matter who has jurisdiction over these essential utility lines,” said LaHood, adding, “We have a responsibility to work together to prevent the loss of life and environmental damage that can result from poor pipeline conditions.”

Donald F. Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said the organization looks forward to working with DOT and PHMSA to ensure the safest, most reliable pipeline transportation network possible.

“Last month, we formally adopted a set of five guiding principles for pipeline safety, including a goal of zero incidents—a perfect record of safety and reliability for the national pipeline system,” he noted. “These guiding principles stemmed from a recently formed INGAA board level pipeline safety taskforce, which is charged with looking at ways to improve the industry’s safety performance and restore public confidence in the natural gas pipeline infrastructure.”

Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, which represents local gas distribution companies, said that AGA also supports LaHood’s call for swift action to increase pipeline safety. “Operators are actively working on distribution and transmission integrity management programs,” he said. “It is critical that these efforts are maintained and that we carefully monitor pipeline infrastructure to improve pipeline safety.”

McCurdy said it also is important for the industry to take a leader role in ensuring the smart modernization of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure and information sharing among operators, emergency responders, and the public.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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