Washington, D.C. – Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) today introduced a bill to strengthen pipeline oversight and increase penalties when federal pipeline regulations are violated.
The Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011, similar to legislation introduced last fall, is meant to ensure public safety in wake of the deadly pipeline blast last year in San Bruno, Calif. The bill also would enforce recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released in early January.
“We must make sure the system of pipelines crisscrossing our country is safe. Americans shouldn’t have to worry that the pipes beneath their feet will suddenly explode, and no neighborhood should have to endure the tragedy that befell San Bruno,” Senator Feinstein said. “That is why we are introducing legislation that will improve the safety of pipelines and increase penalties for those who violate federal regulations.”
Senator Boxer said, “While the residents of San Bruno work to recover and rebuild, we must do everything we can to protect our communities by increasing inspections of our nation’s pipelines while setting tougher penalties for safety violations.”
The Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011 was drafted in response to the September 2010 natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
The legislation would improve the nation’s pipelines in the following ways:
- Doubles the number of federal pipeline safety inspectors.
- Requires deployment of electronic or remote-control valves capable of automatically shutting off the gas in a fire or other emergency.
- Mandates the use of inspection devices called “smart pigs” or an inspection method certified by the Secretary of Transportation as equally effective at finding corrosion.
- Pipeline operators must establish a complete record of pipeline components in order to verify the “maximum allowable operating pressure,” based on the weakest section of the pipeline. Pipelines with incomplete records must be pressure tested or replaced, and must operate at reduced pressure until testing is completed. This provision was recommended by the NTSB after it discovered serious problems with Pacific Gas and Electric’s record keeping during the investigation of the San Bruno explosion.
- Prohibits natural gas pipelines from operating at high pressure if they cannot be inspected using the most effective inspection technology.
- Prioritizes old pipelines in seismic areas for the highest level of safety oversight.
- Directs 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.
- Includes additional provisions to improve pipeline safety including increasing civil penalties for safety violations; expanding 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.