Federal pipeline safety programs would get an extra $67 million and nearly 120 new employees under a proposal President Obama announced Monday that brought cheers from safety advocates pushing to address accidents and growing safety concerns.
The request, part of the president’s $3.8 trillion plan, would almost double the number of enforcement agents nationwide, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The increase also would cover improvements from research to accident investigation to information databases, according to an agency news release.
Pennsylvania safety officials and advocates and the national safety group Pipeline Safety Trust all urged Congress to approve the funding, though Republican leaders have said the president’s budget will be dead on arrival there.
Obama’s plan doesn’t provide a comprehensive solution to several key issues as the state’s pipeline system expands to handle the rush of shale gas, several officials said.
“It is helpful, but there are still huge gaps in pipeline safety,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.
The Obama administration has been pushing for safety system upgrades for more than a year in light of deadly explosions in Allentown, Philadelphia and suburban San Francisco.
Pennsylvania has a growing expanse of pipeline from shale gas development and one of the country’s oldest home heating gas transport and distribution systems. Utility and pipeline companies were spending about $800 million annually going into 2011 to beef up the system, in part to meet increasing federal safety demands.
State lawmakers in December passed rules that will allow them to receive federal funding and hire 12 to 15 inspectors. The Public Utility Commission still wants Congress to pass the increase as part of a general need to improve safety, spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.
The state has 60,000 miles of pipe, and drillers could add 25,000 miles, according to federal figures and a report from the Nature Conservancy, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. Nationwide, there were 10 pipeline incidents causing six deaths, seven injuries and more than $4.2 million in damage last year, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s online database.