Water Infrastructure Initiatives Afoot

March 2013, Vol. 68 No. 3

The National Transportation Safety Board has not issued a report on the cause of the accident. The 20-inch diameter pipeline that cracked was installed in 1967 and pressure-tested twice that year. Line SM-80 had never been pigged. But Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told a Senate committee hearing at the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse in Charleston, WV, on Jan. 28 that Columbia's delayed realization of a leak echoed similar delayed reactions of other pipeline companies in past disastrous leaks in Michigan, California and elsewhere.

Hersman's comments took on extra potential significance because she has been mentioned as the leading candidate to be nominated by President Obama as the next Secretary of Transportation. The department is home to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which issues and enforces federal pipeline safety rules. At the hearings, Rick Kessler, president of the board for The Pipeline Safety Trust, a watchdog group created by Congress after the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010, severely criticized successive administrations going back before Obama and Bush for neglecting the PHMSA. "It is not as effective a regulatory agency as it should be," he stated.

A case in point, according to Kessler, is the agency's failure to require pipelines to install ASVs or RCVs on new pipelines, and some existing pipelines where, in the latter case, that makes sense. He complained that industry concerns about installing valves on existing pipelines were "starting to ring a bit hollow." He added that the U.S. is able to conduct a war against terrorism using remotely controlled drones. "But we can't operate pipeline shut off valves by remote control," he asked rhetorically?
Cynthia Quarterman, Administrator, of the PHMSA told the hearing the agency was considering new rules on both gas transmission pipeline leak detection and ASV and RCV installation. In fact, the PHMSA issued separate advance notices of proposed rulemakings (ANPRs) in 2010 and 2011 for hazardous liquid and gas transmission use of ASVs and RCVs. The agency has not moved forward in either case, since. The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 includes a requirement that PHMSA issue regulations requiring the use of automatic or remote-control shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines, if feasible.