Press Releases

Senators Feinstein and Boxer Introduce Legislation To Strengthen Pipeline Safety and Enforcement

-Bill intended to ensure public safety in wake of deadly San Bruno blast-

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) today introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of the nation’s pipelines and increase the penalties for violations of federal pipeline safety regulations.

“The pipeline explosion in San Bruno was a tragedy that must never occur again in any American neighborhood,” Senator Feinstein said. “That’s why today we are introducing legislation specifically designed to improve pipeline safety – and to establish penalties for violators.

“The American people must be assured that the pipelines that crisscross the nation and run beneath their streets are safe. This legislation is a strong first step in that direction.”

Senator Boxer said, “The tragic explosion in San Bruno makes clear why we must increase inspections of our nation’s pipelines. This measure will put more inspectors to work protecting our communities while setting tougher penalties for safety violations.”

The legislation follows the September 9 natural gas explosion in San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood that occurred when a 30-inch underground pipe erupted. The blast and fire destroyed 37 homes, damaged 18 more, and injured dozens of people. Four people were killed and three are missing.

The Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2010 expands upon legislation proposed last week by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  It would improve the nation’s pipelines by:

  • Doubling the number of Federal pipeline safety inspectors.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) currently has 100 pipeline inspectors, responsible for 217,306 miles of interstate pipeline.  Each inspector is responsible for 2,173 miles of pipeline – the distance from San Francisco to Chicago.  NTSB has recently recommended that “PHMSA must establish an aggressive oversight program that thoroughly examines each operator’s decision-making process.”  Doubling the number of inspectors will make this possible.
  • Requiring deployment of electronic valves capable of automatically shutting off the gas in a fire or other emergency.  Manually operated valves must be located, accessed, and physically turned off in an emergency.  Automatic valves could dramatically reduce damage caused by a pipeline breach.
  • Mandating inspections by “smart pigs” – small robotic devices that inspect the insides of pipelines -- or by use of other inspection methods certified by the Secretary of Transportation as equally effective at finding corrosion.  Accident statistics over the past decade identify corrosion as the leading cause of all reported pipeline accidents.
  • Prohibiting natural gas pipelines from operating at high pressure if they cannot be inspected using the most effective inspection technology.  This precautionary approach to pipeline operations assures that pipelines more likely to have undetected problems are operated at lower risk.  
  • Prioritizing old pipelines in seismic areas for the highest level of safety oversight.  Today, regulators consider a pipeline’s proximity to homes and buildings.  Other risk factors are not a defining consideration, even though pipe age and seismicity have a clear impact on the risk of a catastrophic incident.
  • Directing the Department of Transportation to set standards for natural gas leak detection equipment and methods.  Today there are no uniform national standards for how to detect leaks.
  • Adopting a number of common-sense provisions proposed by Secretary LaHood to improve pipeline safety, including: increasing civil penalties for safety violations; expending data collection to be included in the national pipeline mapping system; closing jurisdictional loopholes to assure greater oversight of unregulated pipelines; and requiring consideration of a firm’s safety record when considering its request for regulatory waivers.

On September 13, Senators Feinstein and Boxer urged the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to immediately order inspections of federal regulated interstate natural gas pipelines throughout California.

On September 14, the senators urged U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills to declare San Mateo County a disaster area, a designation that would make residents and businesses eligible for low-interest SBA loans.