Press Releases

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for aggressive implementation of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011.

Full text of the letter follows:

July 25, 2012 

The Honorable Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary LaHood:

I am writing to urge you to implement the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-90) aggressively, in order to prevent deadly accidents like the September 9, 2010, pipeline rupture and fire in San Bruno, California.

I was very pleased that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) informed pipeline operators in May that it plans to require the industry to verify records establishing the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) of pipelines by 2013 (Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0068). MAOP verification was a key requirement of Public Law 112-90, and these reports will implement an important recommendation in the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) final San Bruno Report.

In addition to recognizing this important progress, I write today in order to encourage PHMSA to take other key steps required by Public Law 112-90 that ensure pipelines are operated at safe pressures.

First, PHMSA has an obligation to initiate a rulemaking to eliminate the “grandfather clause” that allows our oldest pipelines, which began operated prior to the existence of MAOP regulations, to continue to operate without undergoing pressure tests. In its final San Bruno Report, the NTSB recommended that PHMSA “delete the grandfather clause and require that all gas transmission pipelines constructed before 1970 be subjected to a hydrostatic pressure test that incorporates a spike test.”

Congress agreed with the NTSB’s recommendation, directing in Public Law 112-90 that, by July 3, 2013, “the Secretary shall issue regulations for conducting tests to confirm the material strength of previously untested natural gas transmission pipelines....” PHMSA will not be able to meet this deadline unless it initiates the rulemaking process immediately.

Second, Public Law 112-90 requires that transmission pipeline operators report each incidence in which pressures exceed allowable pressure limits (49 USC 60139(b)(2)). PHMSA has historically allowed pipeline operators to report only the incidences in which pressure exceeds MAOP by more than ten percent or for an extended period of time. Congress wrote the new law requiring operators to report all exceedances, without exception, after the NTSB concluded that the San Bruno disaster resulted from a pressure spike exceeding the maximum operating pressure of the pipeline by 2.9 percent.

The San Bruno Disaster demonstrates that any exceedance of pressure limits has the potential to be catastrophic. It is extremely important for PHMSA to clarify to pipeline operators that they must report every incidence in which limits are exceeded. This reporting will allow PHMSA to identify pipeline operators who are running their systems on the margins of safe operation so that it may act to address hazards before it is too late.

Thank you for your commitment to pipeline safety. I trust you will direct PHMSA to implement the important safety improvements required by the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act aggressively. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call me.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator