Senate committee passes federal pipeline safety reauthorization bill

The US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed a pipeline safety bill that reauthorizes US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration operations through fiscal 2019. It referred S. 2276, with a modified substitute amendment from its sponsor and three cosponsors and five more amendments from other subcommittee members, to the full Senate for final consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chair Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), said the committee’s action was a positive step toward ensuring the safety of the US oil and gas pipeline network. Subcommittee Ranking Member Cory Booker (D-NJ), subcommittee member Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and full committee member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) were cosponsors.

The final bill included two amendments proposed by Kelly A. Ayotte (R-NH). The first would require PHMSA’s administrator to consult with the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the prefiling process and permitting procedures for new natural gas pipelines. The second would allow states which are interest to participate in federal pipeline inspections.

Amendments proposed by a second subcommittee member, Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), also were adopted as part of the final bill. The first would require PHMSA’s administrator to report to Congress on metrics related to lost or unaccounted for natural gas from pipelines within a year of the bill’s becoming law.

A second would require the US Comptroller General to conduct a review of states’ gas leak policies, while the third would require PHMSA’s administrator to provide full and unredacted oil spill response plans if requested by three key congressional committees’ chairmen.

American Gas Association Pres. David K. McCurdy applauded the committee’s Dec. 9 action. “The [bill] acknowledges the incredible progress made through the programs set forth in the 2006 and 2011 pipeline safety legislation, and gives regulators the authority they need to continue to enhance the safety of our nation’s gas pipelines,” he said.

A day earlier, Interstate Natural Gas Association Pres. Donald F. Santa expressed support for the bill, especially the manager’s amendment which subsequently become part of it, in a letter to Fischer and John Thune (R-SD), the full committee’s chairman.

Santa specifically cited a provision which would make PHMSA primarily focus on completing legislative mandates from the 2011 pipeline safety reauthorization law, and a requirement for new national safety standards and oversight for underground gas storage facilities, using existing consensus standards as a basis for regulation.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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