SRF Budgets Take Beating, Pipeline Safety In Focus, Fracing Initiative Announced

May 2011, Vol. 66 No. 5

Richard W. Wanta, executive director, Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association,
says, "We are not surprised in the least by the SRF funding cuts. With water infrastructure, it is 'out of sight, out of mind.' In the last few years, the city of Milwaukee has had two sinkholes resulting from cracks in city water mains that are 85 years old. Those flooded city streets mean loss of revenue for businesses in those neighborhoods."

Beyond the inability of states to fund city and county projects, diminished SRF funds make it even harder for underground construction companies to train new employees. Wanta says fresh blood is badly needed given the average age of the workforce is 45 years. "You need to train people by showing them how to lay pipe," he explains. "Technical college doesn't do that."

PHMSA Forum kicks off new pipeline safety focus
It is still unclear if anything substantive will result from the pipeline safety forum Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held on April 18. The forum followed a press conference LaHood and PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman held in Pennsylvania on April 4 where they announced a vague "action plan" meant to respond to a recent series of pipeline explosions, the latest in Allentown, PA, in February when a distribution line ignited killing five people.

LaHood wants to "accelerate rehabilitation, repair and replacement programs for high-risk pipeline infrastructure and to re-qualify that infrastructure as fit for service." He has supplied no specifics, and a spokesman at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) declined to do so prior to the April 18 Forum, which ostensibly was held to get ideas from natural gas transmission, gas distribution and hazardous liquids pipeline industry officials on how to accomplish LaHood's general goals.

Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, says transmission pipelines will work with LaHood, and have already adopted guiding principles to improve the industry’s safety performance and restore public confidence in the natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

LaHood has been specific in saying he wants to increase PHMSA's civil penalty authority, which he requested from Congress last fall when he submitted the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2010. It increased civil penalties and added inspectors. The bill went nowhere.