Visiting the site of last year’s massive gas explosion in Allentown, U.S. Sen.Bob Casey, D-Pa., announced he was pushing for Pennsylvania to improve public transparency regarding pipeline safety information.
In a letter he sent today to the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Casey said improving that transparency will help reduce the amount gas pipeline incidents and help protect state residents.
“The Public Utility Commission should be providing more information to the people of Allentown, the people of the Lehigh Valley, and the people of this Commonwealth,” Casey said.
He made the statement at the gravel lot at 13th and Allen streets, which was the site of several homes before the Feb. 9, 2011, explosion.
Casey cited an independent report by the Pipeline Safety Trust that gave Pennsylvania a score of 0.75 out of 3 in pipeline information transparency, and ranked it 25th among states in that area.
Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said the report was conducted in November and is “flawed” because it was based in part on areas where the commission has no jurisdiction.
“In general, Pennsylvania is in line with all of the other states when it comes to access to its information on pipeline safety,” Kocher said. “We are continuing to pursue gas safety improvements including the manner in which records are made to the public.”
But Casey said the report found the commission only provides agency staff contact information and information on pipeline regulations.
That means it provides no information on incident data, inspection records, enforcement records or excavation damage data, he said.
Casey sent a letter to Commission Chairman Robert Powelson requesting immediate steps to share more data.
Kocher said some of the information not available on their website can be found on the U.S.Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration website. She also said the commission has ongoing efforts to increase pipeline safety.
“Among other things, we are seeking the placement of a training facility for pipeline safety inspectors here in Pennsylvania to help with the current two-year backlog in training for inspectors,” she said.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski joined Casey this morning in urging more transparency.
UGI replaced seven miles of Allentown gas main in 2011 and plans to replace 7.5 miles in 2012, which will leave about 64.5 miles of cast-iron pipe in the city.
UGI spokesman Joe Swope previously said UGI also installed a system in October allowing Allentown and the company to communicate and coordinate more efficiently on infrastructure projects through map-based solutions online.
An investigation into the exact cause of last year’s gas explosion is still ongoing.
Kocher said some information like maps and specific locations of gas pipelines are withheld for homeland security reasons. Casey said he believes a middle ground can be reached where the state is more transparent without creating safety problems.
Pawlowski said that, if certain information could not be provided due to homeland security issues, it could at least be given to city officials and not the public at large.
“Information about water pipelines are public, and if there was a terroristic threat, I’d think it would come from poisoning our water supply rather than the gas pipelines,” he said.