Congress To Ponder Flurry Of New Integrity Management Proposals, San Bruno Cause Still Unknown

November 2010, Vol. 65 No. 11

Congress may vote during the lame duck session after the November congressional elections on the biggest pipeline safety bill since the 2002 amendments established integrity management programs for distribution, transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines. Then again, a major reform bill may be delayed until the next Congress.

The San Bruno accident in California last September where a PG&E transmission pipeline exploded, killing seven, spurred a number of major new bills from House and Senate Democrats, and the Obama administration. That accident followed other pipeline accidents this summer involving an Enbridge oil spill in Michigan and gas distribution line explosions in Texas.

A new pipeline safety reform bill is likely to require integrity management programs to expand beyond high consequence areas (HCAs) and elevate pigging as the inline inspection method of choice for initial baseline assessments. Currently, the transmission IMP lists pigging as one of four options. The cap on civil penalties and the number of inspectors working for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will likely increase too.

Evidence of the new Capital feeding frenzy over pipeline safety was evident by mid-September. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced then the “Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2010.” Up until that point, the Obama Administration had shown no interest in reauthorization of the last pipeline safety amendments, the PIPES Act (The Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006), which expires at the end of this year. A failure to reauthorize that law, either by extending it or passing a new set of pipeline safety amendments, would not affect PHMSA's ability to inspect pipelines or hand out fines. But a reauthorization offers Congress the opportunity to improve any law to account for new concerns and circumstances.

Soon after LaHood's move, two separate pairings of Senate Democrats introduced two enhancements of the DOT reauthorization draft. House and Senate committees held hearings on pipeline safety at the end of September and received preliminary views from industry and public interest groups on the administration proposal and the bills from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). The latter is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over pipeline safety and PHMSA.