Federal legislation proposed following California gas line blast

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 20 -- US Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood sent legislation to Congress on Sept. 15 to increase federal natural gas pipeline oversight and increase the maximum fine for serious violations to $2.5 million from $1 million. California’s two US senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, said they would introduce the bill in response to a Sept. 9 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, south of San Francisco.

The blast in a 30-in. line owned by PG&E Corp.’s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. subsidiary killed 5 people, injured dozens more, and destroyed or badly damaged 49 properties. California’s Public Utilities Commission ordered the utility on Sept. 12 to conduct leak surveys of all of its gas pipelines, giving priority to higher pressure transmission segments and particularly portions in heavily populated areas.

Interstate pipelines are by far the safest way to transport oil and gas, LaHood said as he announced DOT’s proposed legislation. “However, as the recent oil pipeline failures near Marshall, Mich., and Romeoville, Ill., have shown, as well as the tragic gas pipeline explosion in Northern California, the department needs stronger authority to ensure the continued safety and reliability of our nation’s pipeline network,” he said.

In addition to raising the maximum fine for pipeline accidents involving deaths, injuries, and major environmental harm, the proposed “Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2010” would provide additional resources for DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration by authorizing the hiring of 40 more inspectors and other enforcement personnel over 4 years, according to DOT.

It said the proposal also would eliminate exemptions from safety regulations for pipelines that gather hazardous liquids upstream of transmission pipelines; authorize PHMSA to collect additional data on pipelines, including information on previously unregulated lines; and provide for improved coordination with states and other agencies on inspector training and oversight of pipeline construction and expansion projects involving both gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.

DOT said its proposed legislation also would ensure that standards are in place for biofuel and carbon dioxide pipelines, as well as amend the definition of hazardous liquids to expressly include all biofuels and subject their transportation to DOT safety standards.

Feinstein said on Sept. 15 that she and Boxer were going over LaHood’s proposed legislation and would include its best elements in their bill, which also would expand federal oversight to pipelines transporting carbon dioxide.

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on pipeline safety oversight and legislation for Sept. 23.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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