Lautenberg, Rockefeller Introduce Critical Pipeline Safety Act

February 3, 2011

Pipeline SafetyWASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Commerce Committee, and Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation to improve pipeline safety efforts nationwide. The bill strengthens pipeline safety oversight by the federal government and addresses long-standing safety issues, including the use of automatic shutoff valves and excess flow valves.

“Pipelines transport valuable energy resources to communities across our nation. While our pipeline system is largely safe, when accidents occur the consequences can be catastrophic,” Lautenberg said. “Our legislation will help to ensure the safety and efficiency of this vital transportation network. We can prevent deadly accidents by requiring more advanced technology, increased inspections, and steeper penalties for safety violations.”

“Safety should be the bedrock of any responsible business,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “That is why I've teamed up with Senator Lautenberg to reintroduce the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011 - because we want to make sure worker and consumer safety remain top priorities. This important bill will give the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration the tools it needs to provide stronger oversight of our nation’s pipeline system. I urge my colleagues to support our pipeline safety legislation. Safety should never take a backseat to profit.”

The United States has approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines that transport oil, natural gas, and hazardous liquids. These pipelines are an integral component of the U.S. economy and energy supply, and are generally considered a safer mode of transportation than other options for moving gas and liquids.

Since 2006, there have been approximately 40 pipeline incidents each year that resulted in a fatality or injury. Last September, a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, Calif., and quickly engulfed nearby homes in fire. The explosion, and subsequent fire, led to the death of eight people, and destroyed or damaged over 150 residences.

The legislation introduced by Senators Lautenberg and Rockefeller would help mitigate pipeline risks through a number of measures. The legislation would reauthorize and strengthen the authority of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through fiscal year 2014.

Specifically, the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011 includes provisions that would:

  • Increase civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations and add civil penalties for obstructing investigations;
  • Expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities;
  • Eliminate exemptions and require all local and state government agencies, and their contractors, to notify “One-Call” notification centers before digging;
  • Require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to establish time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high consequence areas and establish regulations as appropriate;
  • Make pipeline information, inspections, and standards available to the public on the PHMSA’s web site;
  • Authorize additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees, through a phased-in increase over the next four years;
  • Allow PHMSA to recover costs for oversight of major pipeline design and construction projects; and
  • Authorize appropriations for PHMSA for fiscal years 2011 through 2014.

Senators Mark Begich (D-A.K.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are original co-sponsors of the bill.