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Senate Passes Pipeline Safety Bill

Provisions from Feinstein-Boxer bill included in final legislation

Washington—U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today applauded Senate passage of the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act. The bill includes many provisions drawn from legislation introduced by Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in response to the September 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), passed the Senate Monday evening by unanimous consent after Sen. Feinstein worked with Senator Rand Paul (R-Ken.) to strengthen the legislation in response to recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board. The amended bill requires that older, untested pipes operating at high pressure—such as the one that exploded under San Bruno—be strength-tested to establish safe maximum operating pressures.

The amendment is similar to a provision first proposed by Senators Feinstein and Boxer in the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act, which they introduced in January 2011.

Senator Feinstein said: “Simply put, Californians shouldn’t have to worry about streets exploding under their feet because of lax safety regulations. In San Bruno, utility officials didn’t even know what type of pipe was underground, and that is inexcusable. This legislation includes long-overdue safeguards such as verifying pipeline records, establishing maximum operating pressure and increasing inspections and penalties to ensure that the law is followed. Aging infrastructure demands proper regulation to save lives, and that’s the path on which this bill sets us.”

The Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act includes the following provisions to address safety concerns: 

  • Requires strength-testing for previously untested natural gas transmission pipelines in high-population areas that operate at high pressure.
  • Requires pipeline operators to verify their records to confirm the pipelines’ physical and operational characteristics and their established maximum allowable operating pressure;
  • Authorizes additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees through a phased-in increase over four years;
  • Requires pipeline operators to report all maximum allowable operating pressure exceedances to the Department of Transportation;
  • Increases the cap on civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations and adds civil penalties for obstructing investigations;
  • Requires installation of automatic or remote-control shut-off valves on new pipelines;
  • Requires the Secretary to prescribe regulations that establish time limits on accident and leak notifications by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders;
  • Increases public availability of pipeline information, inspections and standards by requiring that this information be made available online;
  • Sets more stringent standards on state “One-Call” systems by eliminating all exemptions given to local and state government agencies and their contractors on notifying “One-Call” centers before digging; and
  • Permits expansion of excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities.

Similar legislation is being considered in the House of Representatives.