Category Archives: San Bruno

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul delays widely backed pipeline safety measure

WASHINGTON — Despite industry backing and bipartisan support, legislation to improve pipeline safety is being delayed by Sen. Rand Paul, who contends it shouldn’t be given expedited Senate consideration because it contains new federal regulations.

He also criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for mismanaging the legislative process in an effort to pass the bill quickly.

“I believe legislation should have open debate and votes,” Paul, R-Ky., said in a statement Wednesday. “It need not take weeks. Certainly we could spend an afternoon for the people’s elected representatives to discuss whether they got massive new regulations right.”

The Senate’s Democratic leaders want the bill passed using a fast-track procedure — with no debate and a voice vote when many senators might not even be present — that would allow them to spend most of the dwindling time left in this session on legislation aimed at job creation.

But such speedy passage of bills requires unanimous consent, and Paul is the lone member objecting.

Senate leaders could overcome Paul’s objections by considering the bill under normal Senate procedures — requiring 60 votes to cut off debate. But to do so would require more time.

At issue this time is the reauthorization, through 2014, of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency that oversees the nation’s 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and hazardous materials pipelines.

The reauthorization bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Jay Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, includes several new safety provisions adopted after some major pipeline accidents, including one last year in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and injured dozens more. Since 2006, an average of 40 pipeline accidents each year have caused fatalities or injuries.

Paul said in his statement that “absolutely nothing in the current bill would have prevented the recent pipeline problems, or would have prevented the tragedy in San Bruno last year.”

“The bill puts in place new mandates; it hires new bureaucrats,” he said. “But it doesn’t properly diagnose the problem, and it grandfathers in the very pipelines that have had recent problems. It makes no sense. As a doctor, I find it offensive to rush through treatment when you haven’t diagnosed the problem properly.”

Among the new safety steps are increased civil penalties for violating pipeline regulations, new civil penalties for obstructing investigations, additional safeguards for digging around utilities, requirements for shut-off valves in new pipelines, and additional pipeline inspectors and safety experts.

“While our pipeline system is largely safe, when accidents occur the consequences can be catastrophic,” Lautenberg said in a statement in May. “This bill would help to ensure the safety and efficiency of our pipeline network.”

The bill was approved unanimously in May by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sent to the Senate. Paul is not on that committee.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines all back the legislation.

In a July 26 letter to senators, the industry groups said “our organizations support continuous improvement in pipeline safety. (The Lautenberg-Rockefeller bill) would provide legal support for important ‘next steps’ in improving safety.”

The new regulations proposed in the bill would be subject to risk-assessment and cost-benefit analysis, the groups said, adding that the pipeline safety program “is completely paid for by industry — not taxpayers.”

“We thought (the bill) provided a reasonable framework and good congressional guidance for the regulators to go ahead and proceed down a path that would enhance pipeline safety over time,” said Jerry Morris, president and CEO of Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline Inc. in Owensboro, who spoke to Paul about the matter in a June meeting in Owensboro.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supports the pipeline bill, but also defends Paul.

“Senator McConnell believes that every senator has the right to ask for sufficient time to review important legislation,” said spokesman Robert Steurer.

Paul insisted he was not a roadblock.

“The Senate can deal with and likely pass the new pipeline regulations bill,” he said. “In fact, they could have done so at any time since this bill has been ready since July. Time could have been scheduled for debate and votes during any one of the many weeks we sit here all week with few votes.

“The fact is Senate Democrat leaders woefully mismanage the process in the Senate, leaving days and weeks of ineffectively used time, then asserting that bills need to pass with no debate or vote at all,” Paul said.

Given the broad support for the bill, Reid apparently would have the 60 votes needed to overcome Paul’s opposition, but it could take additional time for passage.

SOURCE: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20110928/NEWS01/309280085/Kentucky-Senator-Rand-Paul-delays-widely-backed-pipeline-safety-measure?odyssey=tab%7Cmostpopular%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE

NTSB releases official report on San Bruno explosion

On Monday, September 26, The National Transportation Safety Board released its full report into the investigation of the deadly PG&E gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured several others and destroyed several homes.

Federal officials last month released some of its key findings, including the probable cause, conclusions and a complete list of safety recommendations, and denounced PG&E for “a litany of failures” that led to the deadly San Bruno blast on Sept. 9, 2010.

The NTSB released on its website a 140-page report titled “Pacific Gas and Electric Company Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Rupture and Fire.” The report includes a narrative of what happened leading up to the explosion,

Last month, Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, accused the company of having “exploited weaknesses” in government pipeline regulations “to the detriment of public safety.” She noted that the seeds of the disaster were sown in 1956 when PG&E first assembled the shoddily welded steel pipe through San Bruno’s Crestmoor neighborhood.

Included in the NTSB findings is PG&E’s failure for 54 years to detect a serious welding flaw in the pipe, which finally broke apart Sept. 9 when an electrical glitch at a Milpitas gas-line terminal caused a slight increase in gas pressure.

The investigative board also heavily criticized the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for inadequately supervising PG&E.

SOURCE: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_18979515?nclick_check=1

House pipeline bill would delay new safety measures

As the President considers whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would prohibit regulators from implementing safety rules recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency charged with regulating the nations 2.5 million miles of pipelines, the Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, became a target for reform as reports detailed the dept’s understaffing and heavy ties to industry.

Lawmakers from communities impacted by the recent disasters promised to strengthen pipeline oversight in legislation to reauthorize federal pipeline safety programs, but action has been slow, and a bill that moved through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this month is distressingly weak, pipeline safety advocates say.

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011, sponsored by Bill Shuster (R-PA) requires the Dept. of Transportation to conduct a study on expanding “integrity management rules” for how pipeline operators test and monitor their lines for corrosion and other problems.

Under current rules PHMSA only requires regular testing on lines that run through “high consequence areas” — places that are highly populated or ecologically sensitive.

The Shuster bill prohibits regulators from expanding integrity management requirements beyond high consequence areas.

It also requires regulators to study and report on leak detection systems, but prohibits the dept. from developing new standards for leak detection systems or requiring operators to use them.

As the committee took up and reported the bill on Sept. 8, Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, criticized the measure as a “partisan industry-driven effort.”

“The weak nature of this proposed legislation seems to ignore the specific strong recommendations just a week ago from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the voiced intention of many within the pipeline industry to use the tragedies of the past fifteen months as the impetus to move pipeline safety forward in many areas.”

The NTSB report on the San Bruno pipeline explosion recommended that PHMSA require all operators to equip systems with tools for detecting leaks, require automatic shut-off valves in high consequence areas, require pressure testing for all pre-1970 gas lines and implement enhanced oversight of pipeline integrity management programs.

Shuster’s bill neglects all of these items, Weimer said.

“Just last week NTSB recommended that to avoid more tragedies like San Bruno regulations should be changed to ‘require automatic shutoff valves or remote control valves in high consequence areas and in class 3 and 4 locations be installed,’” he said. “This bill, unlike the bill from House Energy and Power, does not even ask for a study of installing such important valves on existing pipelines through populated communities.”

In July the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved pipeline safety legislation that set deadlines for updates leak detection rules and automated valve use and placement, and strengthened guidelines for river crossings, and gas gathering lines.

The two House bills must now be reconciled.

Association of Oil Pipelines President and CEO Andy Black commended the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for “passing a strong reauthorization bills that wisely avoids imposing new regulations without sufficient evidence current regulatory requirements have failed.”

In an open letter, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) warned that the House Transportation Committee bill would block important reforms and urged PHMSA to immediately adopt all of NTSB’s latest pipeline safety recommendations.

SOURCE: http://michiganmessenger.com/52610/house-pipeline-bill-would-delay-new-safety-measures

Pipeline Spills Put Safeguards Under Scrutiny

This summer, an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying oil across Montana burst suddenly, soiling the swollen Yellowstone River with an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude just weeks after a company inspection and federal review had found nothing seriously wrong.

Crews in July picked up booms to contain oil in the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich.

And in the Midwest, a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich., once teeming with swimmers and boaters, remains closed nearly 14 months after an Enbridge Energy pipeline hemorrhaged 843,000 gallons of oil that will cost more than $500 million to clean up.

While investigators have yet to determine the cause of either accident, the spills have drawn attention to oversight of the 167,000-mile system of hazardous liquid pipelines crisscrossing the nation.

The little-known federal agency charged with monitoring the system and enforcing safety measures — the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — is chronically short of inspectors and lacks the resources needed to hire more, leaving too much of the regulatory control in the hands of pipeline operators themselves, according to federal reports, an examination of agency data and interviews with safety experts.

They portray an agency that rarely levies fines and is not active enough in policing the aging labyrinth of pipelines, which has suffered thousands of significant hazardous liquid spills over the past two decades.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees the pipeline agency, acknowledges weaknesses in the program and is asking Congress to pass legislation that would increase penalties for negligent operators and authorize the hiring of additional inspectors. That may be a tough sell in a Congress averse to new spending and stricter regulation.

“We need to know with great certainty that inspections and replacements have been done in a timely way that will prevent these kinds of spills from happening,” he said.

Federal records show that although the pipeline industry reported 25 percent fewer significant incidents from 2001 through 2010 than in the prior decade, the amount of hazardous liquids being spilled, though down, remains substantial. There are still more than 100 significant spills each year — a trend that dates back more than 20 years. And the percentage of dangerous liquids recovered by pipeline operators after a spill has dropped considerably in recent years.

The industry, however, believes the current system works and points with pride to what it considers a record of improvement.

“Data shows that releases from pipelines have declined over the last decade as the result of stringent regulation and the industry’s continued commitment to safety,” wrote Peter Lidiak, pipeline director for the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, in an e-mailed response.

Throwing more resources and money at the problem may not be the answer for the tiny agency, because there remain deeper concerns about how it works, especially its reluctance to mandate safety improvements or to level meaningful fines for wrongdoing.

Such concerns come at a critical time for the agency. The State Department last month gave a provisional green light to a controversial 1,661-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas, called Keystone XL, that will carry a trickier form of crude — and fall under the agency’s purview. And a just-released National Transportation Safety Board report on a natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that last year cost eight people their lives, characterized the agency’s regulatory practices as lax and inadequate. In the report, the safety board urged the Transportation Department to go back and audit many of the pipeline agency’s safety and enforcement policies.

An analysis of federal reports and safety documents by The New York Times suggests that while the agency performs better than it did 10 years ago, it still struggles to safeguard a transport network laced with risks.

For example, the agency requires companies to focus their inspections on only the 44 percent of the nation’s land-based liquid pipelines that could affect high consequence areas — those near population centers or considered environmentally delicate — which leaves thousands of miles of lines loosely regulated and operating essentially on the honor system. Meanwhile, budget limits and attrition have left the agency with 118 inspectors — 17 shy of what federal law authorizes.

Pipeline operators, critics argue, have too much autonomy over their lines, and too much wiggle room when it comes to carrying out important safeguards, like whether to install costly but crucial automated shut-off valves.

“The system as it presently exists, I don’t think it really protects the public,” said Representative Corrine Brown of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the House transportation subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials. “Self-reporting doesn’t work. We need additional rules and regulations to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing to protect communities.”

She and other lawmakers want Congress and the Obama administration to bolster rules, hire more inspectors and reinvest in the pipeline infrastructure, much of which was laid from the 1950s to the 1970s.
New Project, New Risks

The Keystone XL project is different from most other pipelines in that it will carry a gritty mixture that includes bitumen, a crude drawn from Canadian oil sands that environmentalists argue is more corrosive and difficult to clean when spilled. In its report, the State Department cited 57 special conditions designed to keep the Keystone pipeline safe and wrote that it would have little environmental impact if operated according to regulations.

The National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups assailed that conclusion, saying the State Department had not sufficiently accounted for the impacts of a major spill. More than 1,200 people were arrested during two weeks of protests against Keystone XL outside the White House this summer.

Richard Kuprewicz, a former pipeline engineer for the oil company Arco who serves on an advisory committee to the pipeline agency, said the current regulatory system was not fully prepared to monitor a project like Keystone XL, given the number of leaks the agency already contends with.

“We’re seeing too many ruptures,” Mr. Kuprewicz said. “The numbers are too high.”

Since 1990, more than 5,600 incidents were reported involving land-based hazardous liquid pipelines, releasing a total of more than 110 million gallons of mostly crude and petroleum products, according to analysis of federal data. The pipeline safety agency considered more than half — at least 100 spills each year — to be “significant,” meaning they caused a fire, serious injury or fatality or released at least 2,100 gallons, among other factors.

Pipeline operators reported recovering less than half of all hazardous liquids spilled over the last two decades, according to federal records. And the ratio is not improving: after recovering more than 60 percent of liquids spilled in 2005 and 2006, operators recovered less than a third between 2007 and 2010.

Nearly half of all incidents since 2002 arose from malfunctioning equipment, construction flaws and other technical problems with pipelines. Corrosion, which the agency considers to be different from equipment failure, is the second leading cause, and to blame nearly one-quarter of the time.

In written testimony to Congress after the Yellowstone spill, Cynthia L. Quarterman, the pipeline agency’s top official, emphasized oversight upgrades like increased money for state safety agencies and more extensive training for agency employees. She also noted a decline in significant incidents.

Yet a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, while acknowledging progress, also outlined problems, noting that “recent pipeline incidents suggest there continues to be room for improvement.”

The report said the pipeline agency was hampered by a chronic inspector shortage. Fifteen states are certified to perform their own liquid pipeline inspections, but budget problems within state agencies are also a matter of “great concern,” it said.

The National Transportation Safety Board report on San Bruno said the pipeline agency’s monitoring of state oversight programs and its own enforcement program had been “weak.”

And when something goes wrong, very little happens in the way of penalties, The Times found. For every five significant incidents reported at a hazardous liquid pipeline between 2002 and 2010, the agency issued one fine. (The article continues…)

Read More & SOURCE: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/10/business/energy-environment/agency-struggles-to-safeguard-pipeline-system.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&adxnnlx=1315832412-RHYGj9x6NYkG9hdY/N9NnQ

San Bruno one year on…Consumers will be asked to help pay for billions in gas pipeline upgrades needed after Bay Area blast.

Three of California’s largest utilities are asking customers to help pay for nearly $4 billion in pipeline safety projects needed after last year’s deadly San Bruno disaster.

Power companies and private operators across the nation are racing to improve the safety of about 150,000 miles of natural gas pipelines built before 1970about half of all gas transmission lines in the United States.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which just completed a year long investigation of the San Bruno explosion, found that the older pipelines might be particularly vulnerable and in need of immediate inspection and repair.

To help pay for the work, three main gas suppliers in California have requested rate increases from state regulators. Paul Clanon, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, estimated that utility customers could see an increase of 5% to 10% in their bills depending on what commissioners decide.

In a joint proposal, the Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric are seeking rate hikes to pay for $1.75 billion in pipeline improvements by 2015, which would steadily increase monthly utility bills by more than $2.80.

Both utilities have yet to seek rate hikes for an additional $1.25 billion in planned pipeline projects to be completed by 2021.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co, which serves the Bay Area and Northern California, wants to spend $2.2 billion by 2014 to test and improve its 6,000-mile network of natural gas pipelines. The monthly bill for a typical household is expected to rise by about $2, and business customers can expect an increase of about $15.

For many Southern California residents, the proposed hikes are coming on top of $3.2 billion in rate increases sought by Southern California Edison to upgrade its aging electrical grid.

If approved, the plan would result in a 9.1% increase in the monthly bill of the average residential Edison customer. Consumer advocates have opposed the plan, which, they claim, is salted with questionable allocations for pensions and pay raises.

The effort to hike rates to finance pipeline projects could become just as controversial.

Consumer groups, such as the Utility Reform Network based in San Francisco, are reviewing the proposals to determine if the costs and new charges are justified. They can lodge responses with the Public Utilities Commission.

“We want to make sure the utilities pay their fair share,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for the statewide organization. “We don’t want them to make a profit on deferred maintenance. They also make high profits. Some of the money needs to come out of that.”

Nationally, the improvements will cost utilities and pipeline operators tens of billions of dollars in the next decade — and that will probably mean more efforts to recover the additional expenses.

“It is fair to assume that the cost will get passed through to consumers,” said Don Santa, chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Assn. of America, an industry group of pipeline operators, including large power companies.

Helping to drive the improvements are 29 recommendations issued more than a week ago by the NTSB. They are designed to improve the safety, inspections, emergency plans and regulation of the nation’s extensive grid of natural gas transmission lines.

The recommendations were announced almost a year after eight people died and 38 homes were destroyed when a defective natural gas pipeline built in 1956 ruptured and sent a huge pillar of fire into San Bruno, a Bay Area community.

Board members blamed the inferno on a long history of safety problems at PG&E and weak oversight by state and federal agencies. The utility is also under investigation by the Public Utilities Commission and could face substantial fines, Clanon said.

Regulators and gas industry representatives say various initiatives are already underway by the government, private companies and local utilities to more thoroughly inspect pipelines and repair or replace at-risk sections.

Clanon said that earlier this year, the state Public Utilities Commission ordered all pipeline operators to pressure-test their transmission lines built before 1970.

One of the NTSB’s priorities is elimination of a “grandfathering” clause in federal and state law that has exempted utilities and companies from performing high-pressure water tests on natural gas pipelines built before 1970.

Another key recommendation would require operators to modify their lines to accommodate inspection tools that can run inside a pipe and detect flaws, such as bad welds, cracks and corrosion.

The two methods of testing had been previously opposed by industry groups.

Other recommendations call for automatic and remotely controlled shut-off valves, reviews of regulatory agencies and PG&E’s procedures, better emergency management plans and more thorough record-keeping.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), whose district includes San Bruno, are now proposing legislation to make pressure testing mandatory and to give the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration more enforcement power. Other bills are pending in the California Legislature.

Industry representatives say it is too early to determine the total cost of the national effort to improve the pipeline system. They added that the overall price will depend on the timing of the recommendations and how cost-effective they are.

Oliver Moghissi, president of the National Assn. of Corrosion Engineers International, a professional organization with 27,000 members, said, for example, that he would like to see recommendations that require more pressure testing of older pipelines but on a case-by-case basis depending on conditions and available information on the pipeline in question.

Under a broad mandatory rule, Moghissi said, some pipelines could be tested unnecessarily.

“The goals of the NTSB are commonly recognized,” said Santa of the Interstate Natural Gas Assn. “The question is the means you choose to get there and the pace at which you choose to get there. . . . There can be a lot of devil in the details.”

SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-san-bruno-20110909,0,648331.story

GOP pipeline bill would block pipeline safety reforms

Professionals who work safely, diligently, and follow US government regulations  in the Natural Gas, Oil, Pipeline, Corrosion or Cathodic Protection area of expertise are reminded that Friday, Sept 9, 2011 is the one year anniversary when a catastrophic Natural Gas pipeline disaster occurred in San Bruno, California.  

The accident destroyed 38 homes, damaged 70 killed 8 people and injured 58 others.

But, on Wednesday of this week a pipeline bill offered by House Republicans would block some safety reforms and ignores other recent safety recommendations made by accident investigators in response to the deadly gas explosion.

The bill would prohibit federal regulators from requiring pipeline operators to inspect the structural integrity of major transmission lines in lightly populated areas. It would also bar regulators from setting standards for industry on detecting leaks. Instead, it tells regulators to study both issues and come back with findings in a year or two.

After a series of gas and oil pipeline accidents over the past year, the Department of Transportation recently said it was considering whether to require operators to examine the integrity of major pipelines everywhere, not just in densely populated areas as is currently required.

The bill was posted online Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee is tentatively scheduled to vote on it on Thursday.

The bill “improves safety, enhances reliability, and provides regulatory certainty that will help create new jobs,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement.

But safety advocates said the bill would undermine safety, and the nation’s top accident investigator cautioned against blocking regulators from imposing tougher standards on industry.

“As a result of the investigation in San Bruno and others across the country, the NTSB would be concerned about any legislation that weakens an already lax system of oversight,” board chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.

The board is also investigating gas pipeline explosions in Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., and an oil pipeline spills that fouled the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich.

The GOP bill is silent on several key NTSB recommendations, including that gas companies be required to install automatic shutoff valves on transmission lines in densely populated areas. The pipeline that ruptured underneath a San Bruno subdivision ignited a pillar of fire that flared like a giant blowtorch for more than 90 minutes before gas company employees could manually close valves, shutting off gas to the line.

PG&E has estimated the cost of replacing or retrofitting its current 300 manual values with automatic valves at $100,000 to $1.5 million per valve, depending on the difficulty of the installation. Federal regulators have also said they are considering requiring operators to install more automatic valves.

Another NTSB recommendation not in the bill is that all gas transmission pipelines constructed before 1970 be subjected to a hydrostatic pressure test that incorporates a spike test. Pipelines constructed before 1970, like the one in San Bruno, are exempted from the testing requirements.

“It’s surprising that right after NTSB did one of their largest investigations over one of the biggest (pipeline) tragedies that this bill pays so little attention to those recommendations and actually steps backwards,” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group.