Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) this week sent a letter to Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, asking the administration “to close a regulatory loophole that permits transmission pipeline operators to exceed the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) on a pipeline without reporting this behavior or suffering any repercussion for this unsafe action.”
Following is the text of the letter:
March 16, 2011
The Honorable Cynthia L. Quarterman
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Administrator Quarterman:
The September 9 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, and the resulting devastating loss of life and property have brought to light numerous pipeline safety shortcomings. We proposed to resolve statutory weaknesses in the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act. We are writing to ask you to close a regulatory loophole that permits transmission pipeline operators to exceed the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) on a pipeline without reporting this behavior or suffering any repercussion for this unsafe action.
In reviewing current Federal regulations to determine what might be done to prevent a future rupture and explosion like the San Bruno disaster, we were surprised to learn that your Administration does not require transmission pipeline operators to report most instances in which a pipeline is operated above the MAOP. We are deeply concerned that this loophole would appear to allow pipeline operators to exceed the safe limits of their pipes on a regular basis, without any regulatory consequence.
As you know, Federal law requires each operator of a transmission pipeline facility to submit a “written report on any condition that is a hazard to life, property or the environment.” However, regulations implementing this statute only require pipeline operators to report accidental cases in which the transmission pipeline operates above the MAOP if they are unable to correct the malfunction or operating error causing the pressure spike within five working days. Nowhere do we find any obligation to report intentional pressure spikes over the MAOP.
The loophole also prevents your Administration from knowing how frequently transmission pipelines under its jurisdiction suffer over-pressurization. Your experts cannot identify the types of pipe, locations, or operators that are more prone to these dangerous events, nor can they determine whether operators are responding appropriately in assessing and addressing the resulting risks.
We request that you act immediately to prevent over-pressurization events that potentially threaten the safety and property of the American public by ordering transmission pipeline operators to report all instances in which pipelines operate above their MAOP. We are concerned that a rulemaking to bring this about could take years, and we urge you to issue this order immediately under your existing emergency authority to protect public safety. We believe such a directive would be consistent with current law; if you believe this action would require new statutory authority, we would appreciate it if you would communicate that view promptly.
We share your commitment to prevent a disaster that took the lives of eight Californians from ever happening again in the United States. We look forward to working with you to improve our pipeline safety laws and regulations as quickly as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Dianne Feinstein Barbara Boxer
United States Senator United States Senator