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U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Pipeline Safety Action Plan

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a national pipeline safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents.

Following several fatal pipeline accidents, including one that killed five people in Allentown, PA, Secretary LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood also announced federal legislation aimed at strengthening oversight on pipeline safety, as well as plans to convene a Pipeline Safety Forum on April 18th in Washington, DC, to gather state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders in order to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.

“People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors,” said Secretary LaHood.  “The safety of the American public is my top priority and I am taking on this critical issue to avoid future tragedies we have seen in Allentown and around the country.”

Secretary LaHood was joined by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Charlie Dent and other federal, state and local officials to unveil the Department’s new pipeline safety action plan in Allentown, where a devastating natural gas pipeline failure killed five people and leveled homes and businesses on February 9.

Several other cities have also recently experienced pipeline incidents, including the environmentally devastating rupture in Marshall, MI, and the deadly San Bruno, CA, explosion which highlighted the need for pipeline operators to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of their highest risk lines.

“We must work together to develop a comprehensive solution to prevent these tragedies from happening,” said Administrator Quarterman.

In a meeting in March, Secretary LaHood asked the CEOs of major pipeline companies around the country to conduct a comprehensive review of their pipeline systems to identify the highest risk pipelines and prioritize critical repair needs.  Secretary LaHood committed that the Department would provide technical assistance in helping to identify high risk pipelines.

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

The Department’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.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will also create a new web page 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.

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

Pipeline incidents resulting in serious injury or death are down nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years.  In 1991, there were 67 such incidents compared to 36 in 2010, and an average of 42 per year over the last 10 years.  However, a series of recent incidents have highlighted the need to address the nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

Click here to see pipeline safety action plan.

Pipeline Safety Fact Sheet and Backgrounder

Today, more than 2.5 million miles of pipelines are responsible for delivering oil and gas to communities and businesses across the United States. That's enough pipeline to circle the earth approximately 100 times.

Currently, these pipelines are operated by approximately 3,000 companies and fall under the safety regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  PHMSA has engineers and inspectors around the country to oversee the safety of these lines and ensure that companies comply with critical safety rules that protect people and the environment from potential dangers. While PHMSA directly regulates most hazardous liquid pipelines in the nation, states take over when it comes to intrastate natural gas pipelines.  Every state except Hawaii and Alaska are responsible for the inspection and enforcement of their own state pipeline safety laws for the natural gas pipeline systems within the state. Some states – about 20 percent - also regulate the hazardous liquid lines within state borders.

Over the last three years, annual fatalities have risen from nine in 2008, to 13 in 2009 to 22 in 2010. The ten year average number of fatalities is 15.

Causes of Pipeline Accidents

Pipeline incidents resulting in serious injury or death are down nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years.  In 1991, there were 67 such incidents compared to 36 in 2010, and an average of 42 per year over the last 10 years.  However, a series of recent incidents have highlighted the need to address the nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

There are three major causes of significant pipeline failures resulting in oil spills or gas explosion:  damage from digging; corrosion; and failure of the pipe material, welds, or equipment.  This type of failure is caused by problems with valves, pumps, or the poor construction on any of these.

Safety Requires Coordination

Communities and pipeline operators must work together during planning and construction to prevent potentially fatal mistakes.  Incidents like the September 2010, San Bruno, California explosion are lessons to developers and local governments to work together to ensure homes and businesses are not built too close to, and in many cases on top of existing pipelines.

Pipeline Maintenance & Monitoring

Maintaining healthy pipeline systems requires regular inspections and repairs. Many cast-iron pipelines were installed more than 50 years ago. While some states have replacement plans, most of those plans do not require pipeline replacement for decades into the future.

For example:

  • Pennsylvania’s cast iron pipeline systems are required to be replaced by 2111, which means pipes that are already 80 years old may not  be replaced for another 100 years;
  • New York’s oldest, cast iron pipes will be replaced by 2090, in 79 years; and
  • Connecticut’s pipelines won’t be completely replaced until 2080, or another 69 years.

811 “Call Before You Dig” Hotline

PHMSA helped set up a toll-free 811 “Call Before You Dig” hotline that connects excavators and do-it-yourselfers anywhere in the country to One Call centers that alert utility owners of planned digging. One of the primary tools for avoiding damage to pipelines and other underground utilities is timely communication between excavators and those who operate or own buried utilities. More information is available at www.call811.com.

Monday, April 4, 2011