Pipeline safety action plan

- By:

Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, more than 2.5 million miles of pipelines are responsible for delivering oil and gas to communities and businesses across the United States. Much of the pipeline network is old and in a state of disrepair. The Obama Administration launched on April 4, 2011, a national pipeline safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents. As discussed below, the initiative contains other elements comprising its pipeline safety action plan.


Over the last three years, according to DOT statistics, annual fatalities have risen from nine in 2008, to 13 in 2009 to 22 in 2010. The ten-year average number of fatalities is 15. Following several fatal pipeline accidents, LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk, and urged each to accelerate critical repair and replacement work. DOT has agreed to provide technical assistance in helping to identify high-risk pipelines.

Pipeline safety is a key priority for the current administration in light of the high-profile pipeline accidents over the past several years. Serious pipeline incidents are down nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years but the recent spike in fatalities is alarming.

According to DOT, there are three major causes of significant pipeline failures resulting in oil spills or gas explosions. These are: damage from digging; corrosion; or failure of the pipe material, welds, or equipment.

DOT has announced a multi-faceted action plan to bolster pipeline safety. The White House announced federal legislation designed to strengthen pipeline safety oversight. Pipeline Safety Forum in Washington, D.C., is also being planned. The forum would enable stakeholders, including state officials, industry leaders and others involved in pipeline safety to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation's pipeline infrastructure.

The legislation would increase the maximum civil penalties for pipeline violations from $100,000 per day to $250,000 per day, and from $1 million for a series of violations to $2.5 million for a series of violations. LaHood urged Congress to authorize DOT to close regulatory loopholes, strengthen risk management requirements, increase the number of pipeline inspectors, and improve data reporting to help identify potential pipeline risks early.

The department's pipeline safety action plan seeks to address immediate concerns such as ensuring that pipeline operators know the age and condition of their systems; proposing new regulations to strengthen reporting and inspection requirements; and making information about pipelines and the safety record of pipeline operators easily accessible to the public.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also intends to create a new web page to provide the public with immediate access to information about their local pipeline networks. DOT believes that ensuring the public has access to information about local pipelines will help keep people safe and reduce the potential for serious accidents.

These measures should go a long way to blunt the recent spike in pipeline accidents causing catastrophic injury or death. While the adage 'safety first' is the number one rule to follow to avert disaster, the likelihood of adverse incidents significantly increases when ancient pipelines are involved that lack maintenance. The action plan is properly directed at providing leadership and resources to address this latent problem. PE

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