WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing titled Pipeline Safety: Assessing the San Bruno, California Explosion and Other Recent Accidents.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Let me be clear: I believe safety should be the bedrock of any responsible industry. This goes for all companies, big or small, from the coal fields of West Virginia, to the manufacturers of automobiles. Whether you are a worker in a coal mine or live near a pipeline, we must do all that we can to make our industries as safe as possible. And safety must never take a backseat to profit.
This Committee has held a number of safety-related hearings this past year. We’ve taken a hard look at motor vehicles and motor carriers, the Gulf Coast oil spill and aviation. Today, we will examine pipeline safety.
Statistically, pipeline transportation is a relatively safe way to transport goods compared to other modes of transportation. But these statistics mean little to the families of those killed and injured by the San Bruno explosion. The explosion – and resulting fire – killed seven people, injured dozens more, and destroyed the homes of at least 37 families. The San Bruno explosion, and the Michigan pipeline rupture that happened over the summer, are stark reminders that more needs to be done on pipeline safety.
That’s why Senator Lautenberg and I have teamed up to introduce the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2010. This important bill, which we introduced today, will give the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration the tools it needs to provide stronger oversight of our nation’s pipeline system.
The bill goes a long way toward requiring the use of excess flow valves in multi-family buildings and commercial facilities, mandating the use of remote controlled and automatic shut-off valves, removing exemptions from one-call requirements, and providing useful and timely information to the public to provide greater awareness of pipeline locations and inspection activities.
I want to thank Senator Lautenberg for his leadership on this important issue and I look forward to working with him and my other colleagues on the Committee to pass this critically important pipeline safety legislation. I also want to thank today’s witnesses for being here today. I look forward to hearing from them what steps they believe we must take to prevent tragedies, like the tragedy at San Bruno, from ever happening again.
Senator Frank R. LautenbergChairmanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Welcome to today’s hearing on pipeline safety.
This issue has taken on added urgency in the wake of the tragic accident in suburban San Bruno, California on September 9th. Our thoughts go out to all who lost loved ones or were injured as a result of this tragedy, as well as to those whose homes were destroyed.
In San Bruno, a natural gas pipeline ruptured below the ground, igniting a blaze that sent fireballs into the sky and residents scurrying into the streets. The blast killed at least seven people, 52 others, and destroyed 37 homes.
The San Bruno incident followed two pipeline accidents in the Midwest this summer, including one leak that spewed more than one million gallons of oil into a waterway in Michigan. These incidents have raised understandable concerns about the safety of those who live near pipelines—both existing and planned.
In New Jersey, we have long been concerned about these issues—especially since 1994, when a natural gas pipeline exploded in Edison, New Jersey, destroying 14 apartment buildings and leaving more than 100 people homeless. Now, Spectra Energy Corporation of Texas wants to build a major natural gas pipeline through Bayonne and Jersey City—one of the most densely populated areas in my state. We will be watching this proposed project very closely.
By and large, pipelines are a safe form of transport but as we’ve seen, when accidents occur, the consequences can be catastrophic. We made significant progress in 2006, when we passed the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act, also known as the PIPES Act. This law includes a provision that I authored, which requires service lines to single family homes to be fitted with excess flow valves that can automatically shut off a pipeline if a sudden change in pressure is detected.
The PIPES Act also improved excavation safety by strengthening the one-call system, which makes it easier for construction crews to notify utility companies about digging projects—and therefore dramatically reduce the risk of injuries.
Yet, there is more work to do, which is why I have introduced legislation to build on the improvements in the PIPES Act. This new bill will require everyone to comply with the “call before you dig” requirements under the PIPES Act—by eliminating exemptions for state and local governments and their contractors. It will expand the use of excess flow valves to apartment buildings and small commercial facilities as well as require the installation of automatic shut-off valves on new pipelines.
Unfortunately, such a device was missing on the pipeline that ruptured in the San Bruno tragedy. This bill will also increase the amount of information available to the public on inspection results, industry standards, and high consequence areas.
Finally, my bill will put more pipeline inspectors on the job and require the federal government to establish standards for leak detection on pipes. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation and make our country’s pipelines safer.
I also look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses—but first, we will turn to other members for their opening statements.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Dianne FeinsteinU.S. SenatorCalifornia
Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Cynthia L. QuartermanAdministratorPipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
The Honorable Christopher A. HartVice ChairmanNational Transportation Safety Board
Witness Panel 3
Mr. Paul ClanonExecutive DirectorCalifornia Public Utilities Commission
Mr. Christopher JohnsPresidentPacific Gas and Electric Company
Mr. Jim RuaneMayorSan Bruno, California
Mr. Rick KesslerVice Presidentthe Pipeline Safety Trust