House Committee Ups DWSRF Authorization Levels; BP Spill Produces Pressure For Pipeline Safety Revisions

July 2010 Vol. 65 No. 7

BP Spill Produces Pressure For Pipeline Safety Revisions
While the impact of the British Petroleum oil spill on offshore oil and gas development is already obvious, its impact on pipeline safety is less so, despite promises of likely ramifications. That was clear from the hearings in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 20 where both Democrats and Republicans peppered Cynthia Quarterman, the new administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, with questions about the agency's existing plans for oil and gas accidents. Quarterman particularly came under fire for her agency's failure to write regulations on low stress pipelines which were ordered by Congress in 2006 as a result of two BP hazardous liquid pipeline spills in 2006. (PHMSA did publish a final rule regulating large-diameter, low stress liquid lines; but 1,000 miles of low-stress remain unregulated).

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), chairman of the railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee, opened the hearings by referring to the BP Alaska pipeline spills in 2006, the failure of PHMSA to regulate some low stress pipelines and said "we have to make sure all pipelines are putting safety before profit."

That low-stress pipeline requirement was just one of the provisions in the latest of a long line of pipeline safety bills from the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006, called the PIPES Act. It expires at the end of 2010 meaning Congress is under some pressure to "reauthorize" that law. Laws do not have to necessarily be reauthorized. Their programs can continue to be funded. But reauthorizations present an opportunity for Congress to make changes in laws. Given the BP Gulf spill and the fact that PHMSA has dragged its feet on the low-stress hazardous liquid pipeline rulemaking, it seems likely that Congress will at least make an attempt to pass a new pipeline safety bill by the end of the year.