NTSB Recommendations On San Bruno Put Pressure On Congress, Administration; Keystone XL Decision Coming

October 2011, Vol. 66 No. 10

INGAA CEO Don Santa says his association's Pipeline Safety Task Force’s Integrity Management Continuous Improvement (IMCI) team is implementing action plans that address NTSB’s recommendations.

The bill passed by the House committee on Sept. 8, a second House bill in the Energy & Commerce Committee and a third bill passed in May by the Senate Commerce Committee respond to only a handful of the NTSB recommendations. The House Transportation Committee bill is very similar to the Energy & Commerce bill, which is called the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act of 2011. INGAA prefers the House E&C bill to the Senate bill, called the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011(S. 275).

In its San Bruno report, the NTSB criticized the PHMSA for inadequate TIMP inspection protocols and for not incorporating the use of effective and meaningful metrics as part of its guidance for effective performance-based pipeline safety management programs. Neither the House nor Senate bills require upgrading PHMSA standards or inspection of transmission company implementation of the TIMP. The bills do charge PHMSA with making recommendations whether to expand the TIMP to areas not now considered HCAs.

The House and Senate bills do cover some of the ground in the NTSB recommendations but stop short of requiring most of what NTSB recommends, such as automatic shutoff valves. The bills, for example, require shut off valves if they are "economically, technically and operationally feasible" and then only for new pipelines. The NTSB wants automatic shutoff valves or remote control valves in high consequence areas and in class 3 and 4 locations.

A House staffer explains that widespread use of remote control valves "which run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – in every transmission line in every HCA would place an impossible burden on industry and consumers alike."

The House and Senate bills have no provisions related to SCADA, for example. The House Energy & Commerce bill does end the grandfathering of pre-1970 pipelines from maximum allowable operating pressure requirements. "Closing this loophole will help prevent accidents like San Bruno in the future," says the House staffer. She adds, "Also, as part of expanding integrity management programs into transmission lines located outside high consequence areas, we are starting the process of requiring inline inspection of many more miles of gas transmission lines."