Feds Call for Tighter Pipeline Inspections

Thursday, February 10, 2011 @ 06:02 AM gHale

Pipeline safety continues to undergo scrutiny as California’s U.S. senators renewed legislative efforts to tighten the pipeline inspection regime in response to September’s fatal Pacific Gas and Electric explosion.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer reintroduced the “Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act,” which matches legislation the two introduced last year, except for a new section ordering pipeline operators to comply with National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued in January.

The new provision would require pipeline operators to establish records of all pipe components to verify the weakest section can handle the “maximum allowable operating pressure.” Pipelines with incomplete records must undergo pressure-testing or face replacement and only operate at reduced pressure until they complete testing, according to the bill.

“It’s a relatively major addition to the bill,” Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer said.

As in the previous version that did not pass before the last Congress ended in December, the bill proposes doubling the inspector staff at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, requiring automatic shutoff valves, mandating “smart pig” devices and prohibiting high-pressure lines from operating if they don’t use up-to-date inspection technology.

Feinstein and Boxer also want to target old pipelines in earthquake-prone areas for the highest level of scrutiny and direct regulators to set standards for gas leak detection.

“We must make sure the system of pipelines crisscrossing our country is safe,” Feinstein said. “Americans shouldn’t have to worry that the pipes beneath their feet will suddenly explode, and no neighborhood should have to endure the tragedy that befell San Bruno.”

“While the residents of San Bruno work to recover and rebuild, we must do everything we can to protect our communities by increasing inspections of our nation’s pipelines while setting tougher penalties for safety violations,” Boxer said.

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