New Underground Construction Standards Imminent From OSHA; Pipeline Bill In Congress; Wetland Gas Repairs

June 2011 Vol. 66 No. 6

A number of amendments were tacked onto the bill when the committee passed it. One, for example, requires PHMSA to apply "due process" protections to pipelines when enforcement actions are proposed. Andy Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipelines, welcomes that amendment because the bill also increases the size of civil penalties the PHMSA can mete out by 150 percent. The new top civil penalties of $250,000 per incident up to a total of $2.5 million would only come into play for incidents with "major consequences" defined as: those resulting in one or more deaths; one or more injuries or illnesses requiring in-patient hospitalization; or environmental harm exceeding $250,000 in estimated damage to the environment.

Black adds that some provisions in the bill need "further enhancements." That point was reiterated at the committee mark-up by Sen. Kay Hutchinson (R-TX), the ranking GOP member on the committee. She thanked Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) for working to address some of her concerns in changes made to the bill before the vote, and added that she would be seeking "further improvements" when the bill goes to the Senate floor for a vote. She didn't enumerate those. In addition, of course, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will have to pass a pipeline safety bill which may or may not be similar to S. 275.

Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee, has said he would not be considering a pipeline safety bill until this fall.

Don Santa, president of INGAA, states, "This legislation updates and improves pipeline safety policy in several areas, including integrity management and damage prevention." Again, the bill does not dictate changes in the distribution or transmission integrity programs, just a study. But Martin Edwards, INGAA's top legislative executive, says there is no doubt PHMSA will be expanding HCAs administratively. "The only question is how much HCAs will be expanded," he explains.

The bill passed by the Senate committee includes numerous provisions of interest to distribution, transmission and liquid pipelines. But none of them make far-reaching changes to the current safety system overseen by PHMSA. And to the extent that the bill authorizes an additional 39 staff positions at PHMSA over the next four years, it is uncertain whether the Appropriations Committees in the Senate and House will provide the funding for those salaries.