Tag Archives: Regulations

Report: More to be done to make pipelines safer

The Associated Press reports that Salt Lake City authorities say more can be done to prevent massive oil spills in Utah like two costly ones near Red Butte Creek in 2010, but they’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the cost, according to a report released this week.

The review, commissioned by Salt Lake City and authored by the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust, points out that the state can go beyond the minimum pipeline safety standards outlined by the federal government.

“I would like it to be safer,” Carl Weimer, the trust’s executive director and study’s author, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “But maybe Utah doesn’t want it to be safer.”

The report comes two years after leaks in a Chevron pipeline spilled nearly 55,000 gallons of crude oil in Salt Lake City’s eastern foothills. Since then, Chevron spent about $42.6 million on spill-related expenses, including $36.6 million in cleanup efforts on Red Butte Creek, $500,000 to Utah, and $1 million to Salt Lake City.

Recommendations include clearer standards for leak detection and damage reports, more transparency, and the creation of a citizen pipeline safety advisory board that would work with oil and gas industry officials to periodically review the pipelines.

Weimer estimates there are 347 miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid transmission lines underground in the 500-square-mile Salt Lake valley. He says that’s far too many for regulators to monitor closely.

“Although the federal government is responsible for setting minimum pipeline safety standards, Utah can adopt additional or stricter safety standards,” the report says. “To date, Utah has not chosen to seek any authority over hazardous liquid pipelines or interstate natural gas pipelines.”

Mayor Ralph Becker responded to the report, saying Salt Lake City needs to take the lead on protecting the community rather than leaving the job to the industry.

Becker said he plans to bring the report to state lawmakers in hopes of getting stricter pipeline safety rules on the books.

U.S Rep. Kucinich seeks NRC hearing about cracks at Davis-Besse

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Monday to hold a public hearing on the cracks in the concrete containment building at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant 10 miles west of Port Clinton.

In a letter to the chairman of the agency, Mr. Kucinich disputed FirstEnergy’s description of the cracks as “hairline” and as limited to decorative concrete. He said the cracks appear to follow the line of the reinforcing bar, are clearly visible, and run for 30 feet.

He said the cracks could be laid to “concrete carbonation,” the seepage of carbon dioxide through concrete allowing for the corrosion of steel reinforcing bars.

The cracking “seems to indicate a widespread problem that will undermine the structural integrity of the shield building,” Mr. Kucinich wrote to Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the agency.

Mr. Kucinich asked the agency to conduct a public hearing on the cracks before FirstEnergy is allowed to power up the reactor.

A FirstEnergy spokesman said the company has a “root cause team” looking at the problem but that carbonation appears not to be an issue.

“Our testing on a number of concrete samples showed no carbonation on any of the crack surfaces of those that we tested, and [from] our inspections of the rebar, the rebar looks very good and healthy. There was no corrosion of the re-bar,” said spokesman Jennifer Young.

“[Mr. Kucinich’s] letter suggested we weren’t telling the full story. I don’t believe that to be the case. The NRC understands everything we’ve looked at,” Ms. Young said.

She said there are no plans for a hearing and that FirstEnergy continues to work on the crack issue as part of its regular outage. FirstEnergy is shooting for restarting the plant around the end of the month.

The cracks were discovered after a hole was cut in the outer shield building to install a new reactor head. FirstEnergy has submitted to the NRC its finding that the cracks are not a safety hazard and is following up by submitting technical reports to the commission in response to its questions about the matter.

SOURCE: http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2011/11/22/Kucinich-seeks-NRC-hearing-about-cracks-at-Davis-Besse-2.html

Stretching, Staffing and Pipeline Integrity Management

Pipeline Integrity Management
People who do not know MATCOR don’t yet recognize how highly qualified we all are in programmed corrosion prevention, and in reporting on the results

According to MATCOR’s Nick Judd, Houston-based corrosion engineer, “The company used to pick up less than 200 miles a year in pipeline integrity management (PIM) projects. Today, we are already doing more PIM; we’re growing to serve much more, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve got the capabilities.”

In deploying a broader range of experience-based capabilities, MATCOR knows that Pipeline Integrity Management is a crucial tool for operators and asset managers who have to do more in monitoring pipeline corrosion and assuring pipeline integrity. Judd maintains that MATCOR is present and accounted for in all the ways that reinforce the corporate theme, “Integrity that Works.”

“Today, everyone we hire is NACE-certified, starting with entry Level 1 and going through succeeding Levels 2 and 3,” he notes. “Our PIM professionals have to be Level 1 at least. We also staff with a mixture of graduate engineers in various disciplines and field-experienced personnel. Then we combine the two so we can go the extra distance for every PIM customer. Both Judd and MATCOR Executive Vice President Glenn Schreffler agree that the company’s personnel have to have both the “book learning” and the field experience to deliver effective PIM services.

“People who do not know MATCOR don’t yet recognize how highly qualified we all are in programmed corrosion prevention, and in reporting on the results,” says Judd.

The foundation is always NACE certification. Why? NACE has known for many years that there’s a need for supporting and reinforcing the integrity in corrosion prevention. NACE standards meet the needs of all segments of the infrastructure industry; they are written and approved by instructors and professors, government officials and regulatory experts, and especially by industry professionals…including some MATCOR experts. Judd maintains, “There need to be levels of testable knowledge leading to certification in corrosion, cathodic protection, and coatings and linings – this is part and parcel of our approach to PIM. So we make certain today that our technicians are NACE-certified by corporate mandate. Our internal OQ disciplines are just as rigorous.” (Judd is one of MATCOR’s Operator Qualification specialists as well.)

Integrity management of pipelines is an organized, integrated and comprehensive process that counters threats to pipeline safety. But as is now plain, PIM is about people. To be successful, MATCOR people not only meet widely recognized PIM standards but are able to apply them meticulously. “In PIM assignments, the crews I send out may have to meet weather challenges, or equipment difficulties – but never problems of applied knowledge or data acquisition or reporting.”

Effective PIM service delivery encompasses every one of the knowledge/data/reporting demands. “We carefully and successfully completed one ECDA (External Corrosion Detection Analysis) project for a very short segment of a customer’s pipelines, notes Judd. “We dotted every i, we crossed every t – we met and exceeded the expectations of the customer’s Corrosion Integrity Manager.”

“Even so, we were still pretty gratified when we got a callback from this customer, an opportunity to do more work, because our job performance was so good. Our new, larger project involves ICDA, (internal corrosion direct assessment), which also means extra computer modeling. I went over the PIM game plan with this customer and noted that we were going to need much more data to ensure success on this newer, large-scale project.”

“The customer agreed to help meet these requirements. And since he knows our data is superbly accurate, he is using the information we collect and analyze to revamp the alignment sheets on a 35-pipeline system.”

“This customer manager also feels that the MATCOR people working on this project understand the delicate differences among some of ‘his’ transportation system elements, which include gap and transmission mains, in-plant systems and distribution lines.”

“And for him – just as we’re doing for everyone now – MATCOR goes the extra distance, ensuring that we turn the data into analyses and report those within 48 hours of receiving the data.”

Whether MATCOR is conducting ECDAs, ICDAs, root cause analyses or ongoing maintenance and repair supervision, every element is documented and reported. So for MATCOR in PIM, there is an additional factor at work. “US Department of Transportation regulators are frequently on our sites,” says Judd, “closely monitoring how we actually conduct these processes and programs. We have an in-depth understanding of their reporting demands and we can use this savvy to help operators pass regulatory scrutiny with flying colors. It is one more level of reassurance – again supported by MATCOR’s multiple levels of experience and dedication to going the extra mile.”

For Judd, none of this is a stretch. His obligation to integrity reinforces the company’s. “Whenever I leave a meeting, I always want to be certain I have said the same things today that I said last year, and will continue to say next year, in terms of commitments made and delivered upon.”

“When MATCOR says, ‘We will do it,’ it’ll get done. Period.”

FAA Warns of Corrosion on Boeing 757 Tails

U.S. regulators want airlines to check for corrosion on movable tail parts on hundreds of Boeing 757 jets that could result in pilots losing control of aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed on Monday a mandatory safety directive covering devices that control tail sections, called horizontal stabilizers, that help raise and lower the noses of more than 700 Boeing 757s flown by U.S. carriers. Eventually, the checks are expected to apply to hundreds of additional Boeing 757s operated by overseas airlines.

A Boeing Co. spokeswoman said it supported the proposal, which builds on its nonbinding safety recommendations that carriers regularly inspect and lubricate the affected parts. She said that Boeing clarified those recommendations last year. An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment.

The move comes nearly 11 years after a maintenance lapse helped cause a similar device to fail on the tail of an Alaska Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-83 off the Southern California coast, rendering the plane uncontrollable and sending it into a dive that killed all 88 people aboard. Investigators eventually determined that faulty aircraft design, slipshod maintenance and inadequate federal oversight all contributed to the high-profile accident.

In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board called on Boeing and other aircraft makers to launch a “systematic engineering review” to prevent such potentially catastrophic failures of flight controls on thousands of jetliners.

According to the FAA, part of the 757’s horizontal stabilizer-control system is similar to a screw-style mechanism that failed on the Alaska jet, and may be subject to similar types of failures.

Since that accident, Chicago-based Boeing’s design reviews and safety analyses found “extensive corrosion” on one 757 that “could lead to loss of control of the horizontal stabilizer and consequent loss of control of the airplane,” according to the FAA.

The agency’s proposal is expected to be released for comment Tuesday, though it could take months to become final.

The proposal is unusual because it generally calls for tougher inspection standards and, in some cases, appears to envision tighter compliance deadlines than those previously issued by Boeing to detect and replace suspect parts. In January 2010, Boeing issued various updated service bulletins calling for repeated inspections to look for worn, cracked, corroded or loose-fitting parts, called ballscrews, on certain 757 jetliners.

Such maintenance bulletins aren’t binding on carriers, but airlines typically follow the advice of manufacturers unless the FAA or other regulators issue alternate directives.

As part of its proposed directive, the FAA’s criteria for immediate replacement of parts is twice as stringent as the latest standard Boeing issued last year. The FAA also wants airlines to ensure that replacement parts are new or have been properly overhauled, and the agency envisions initial inspections of some planes within six months of the final rule.

SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204777904576651591163671756.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

US Senate approves pipeline safety bill

The Senate unanimously approved a pipeline safety bill that stemmed from a spate of incidents, including last year’s deadly explosion in San Bruno, California.

The measure had been held up by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who lifted his hold after reaching agreement with Democrats to add a key recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Usually wary of regulatory oversight, Paul said he wanted to strengthen the legislation. His initial objection was that the bill was written before the NTSB completed its report on the San Bruno explosion, Paul said in a statement. “While I am in favor of as little regulation as necessary, if we are going to impose regulations, we should do it right,” he said.

But it does not include an NTSB recommendation to require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas, a response to the nearly 95 minutes it took utility workers to manually shut off gas spewing from the San Bruno site. That requirement has faced industry opposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed state legislation to require automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensure that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines in California.

“This is a huge step forward for the safety of pipelines and communities across the nation,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the measure’s chief sponsor. “This bill strengthens oversight and addresses long-standing safety issues that leave the public vulnerable to catastrophic pipeline accidents.”

The amended bill requires that older, untested pipes operating at high pressure — such as the one that exploded under San Bruno — be strength-tested to establish safe maximum operating pressures, Sen.Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said after the vote.

“Simply put, Californians shouldn’t have to worry about streets exploding under their feet because of lax safety regulations,” Feinstein said in a statement.

A similar measure awaits action in the House.

SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-senate-pipeline-bill-20111018,0,1199195.story

Feds focus on new products, not aging pipelines

The only government research program dedicated to improving the safety of U.S. natural-gas pipelines has no plans to study whether key federal investigative recommendations made in the wake of the San Bruno disaster might save lives, officials say.

In drawing lessons from the September 2010 explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, the National Transportation Safety Board reached two major findings:

1. The government should end the practice of exempting aged pipelines from rigorous pressure tests.
2. Operators should add more automatic pipeline shut-off valves to save homes and lives in a disaster.

But the government’s main pipeline regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says it has no intention of sponsoring research into whether those are good ideas. Instead, agency officials say, their energy is going toward working with private companies in developing new pipeline safety products.

Pressure is mounting on the agency as members of Congress and safety experts call for more information about older pipelines in the aftermath of the San Bruno explosion and other disasters. Even industry has concerns. Cliff Johnson, president of the industry-led Pipeline Research Council International, said “there’s been kind of a hole” in the research program when it comes to “heartburn issues” like aging pipelines.

Too ‘theoretical’

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration admitted to the safety board during the San Bruno investigation that it lacked big chunks of information about grandfathered pipes, including their location.

But the agency said in a statement responding to a San Francisco Chronicle query that although doing a study on grandfathered pipe “may have some merit,” it was too “theoretical” to fit the focus of its research program.

Instead of looking into the merits of forcing operators to test their older lines, the pipeline agency said it plans to focus on research to develop products and procedures that can be marketed for pipeline repairs, protection and inspections. The federal government will finance the research but involve companies that might market the results.

Using New Technology

The idea is to “operationalize new technology, as opposed to undertaking theoretical research,” the agency said.

In other words, the results of these federally financed studies “can be quickly put into use,” said Olivia Alair, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, the pipeline agency’s parent department.

SOURCE – and read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/15/MNUD1LDHHV.DTL#ixzz1b2qVrjRm

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

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

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.