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

July 2010 Vol. 65 No. 7

A couple of factors beyond the BP disaster -- but exacerbated by it -- make this likely. First, the number of federal and state pipeline inspectors is deemed insufficient, and only getting more so. Quarterman acknowledged that her agency has less than 100 inspectors nationwide even though it has positions for 135. Quarterman committed to filling those vacancies by the end of the year. Even if she does, the many states who have responsibility for enforcing the federal pipeline safety laws have seen their pipeline enforcement budgets drop precipitously. PHMSA funds about 50 percent of the inspection budgets for states with federal enforcement responsibility. Recent statistics indicate that states are responsible for pipeline safety covering over 92 percent of 1.9 million miles of gas distribution piping in the nation, 29 percent of 300,000 miles of gas transmission and 32 percent of 166,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines.

The PIPES Act required PHMSA to fund 80 percent of the state programs. But that requirement has not been met because the 2006 law included a provision that states, to be eligible for the federal share, had to have spent more in their last fiscal year on pipeline safety than the average of the past three years. PHMSA can, and in some instances, has waived that "averaging" requirement. Paul Metro, gas safety supervisor, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and secretary of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR) told the subcommittee that a reauthorization of the pipeline safety law should include a change to the 2006 "averaging" requirement so that the three-year comparison was based on fiscal 2004-2006. In FY 2010, PHMSA’s $40.5 million appropriation to support state programs will fund 54 percent of state pipeline safety programs.

INGAA also wants a reauthorization which would change the 2002 pipeline safety law provision which requires transmission lines to reinspect segments passing through high consequence areas (HCAs) every seven years. This is a requirement of the transmission integrity rule required by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 and implemented by PHMSA in February 2004.

Operators were required to complete a baseline assessment of 50 percent of their covered segments, beginning with the highest risk segments, by Dec. 17, 2007, and 100 percent of their covered segments by Dec. 17, 2012.