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

November 2010, Vol. 65 No. 11

In terms of the draft legislative proposal submitted by LaHood, it would provide for an additional 40 federal pipeline inspectors, buttressing a current team of 100. The ceiling on civil penalties for pipeline safety violations would increase 250 percent. Gathering lines would be subject to federal safety laws for the first time. The PHMSA would be charged with reviewing the integrity management programs for intrastate and interstate gas systems and hazardous liquid lines, with an eye toward expanding them beyond high consequence areas (HCAs). Quarterman seemed to indicate that PHMSA had already come to a conclusion before conducting the review. "The Administration believes that the time has come for pipeline operators to apply the latest in-line inspection technologies over the widest possible areas of their systems to ensure safety and environmental protection," she told the Waxman committee.

Broad inspections already underway
Don Santa, the INGAA president, answered Quarterman by pointing out that transmission companies are already inspecting many more miles than just those in HCAs. This is because pipeline operators are completing these inspections predominately using smart pigs. Pigs must be 'launched' and 'received' at aboveground facilities such as compression stations, which typically are located 75 to 100 miles apart. While a pipeline segment between a compression stations may contain only a few miles of scattered HCAs, the entire 75 to 100 mile segment must be inspected in order to capture those few HCA miles. In 2009, for example, about 23,000 miles of pipeline actually was inspected and repaired, even though only 2,343 miles were located in HCAs. INGAA estimates that approximately 65 percent of total transmission mileage will have been inspected and repaired by the end of the baseline testing period in December of 2012.

Of course, inspection doesn't always prevent an accident, as the San Bruno incident underlines. San Bruno's dependence on direct assessment may be called into question, although pigging was impossible because of bends in that pipeline. That aside, Quarterman's allusion to the need for pipelines to use "the latest in-line" inspection techniques seemed to presage a push to eliminate direct assessment alone as an inspection technique.