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

November 2010, Vol. 65 No. 11

Cause still unknown
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has yet to determine the cause of the San Bruno accident. The PG&E pipeline segment in San Bruno is located in a high consequence area. PG&E inspected the segment for internal corrosion using direct assessment, one of four methods approved under the transmission integrity management program, in November 2009. The company also did leak detection checks in March 2009 and March 2010, when no leaks were found.

The investigation by the NTSB may determine whether PG&E fulfilled all requirements under the transmission IMP. Ted Lopatkiewicz, an NTSB spokesman, expected a preliminary report to be issued as early as the week of Oct. 12. It will be a compilation of factual information gathered up to that point. "I don’t know what particular areas will be covered but it will not provide any determination of cause of the accident," he says.

The results of that preliminary investigation will probably help guide congressional action on pipeline safety law improvements.

During the hearings at the House Energy & Commerce Committee in late September, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the committee chairman, said, "I don’t think anyone can look at what has happened in Michigan or California and conclude that our pipeline safety laws are working as intended."

House and Senate committees had held hearings on pipeline safety earlier this year. But no one in Congress had introduced a reauthorization bill; nor had the Obama administration. That quickly changed after the San Bruno accident.

The bill sent up to Congress by Transportation Secretary LaHood makes a number of changes to current law. When she came before Waxman's committee on Sept. 23 to discuss those changes, Cynthia Quarterman, the administrator of the PHMSA, noted that her agency would also be proposing regulation changes -- which require no congressional approval -- in response to the San Bruno, Enbridge and the Texas accidents. She did not specify those, but they could be significant.