Ahead of 20th Anniversary of Olympic Pipeline Explosion, Cantwell Calls for Implementation of Pipeline Safety Rules

April 10, 2019

Only months before the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham that killed three young people and led to landmark pipeline safety reforms, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, today called for implementation of more stringent federal safety rules.

“This June will mark the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham. A series of failures led to spilling over 275,000 gallons of gasoline and a fireball that killed three young people,” Cantwell said today at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety. “In response, Congress has passed more stringent pipeline safety, and yet there is more that can be done.”

Cantwell pressed Howard “Skip” Elliot, the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), for more urgent implementation of pending pipeline safety rules.

“We also have 11 outstanding safety rules that Congress has already mandated, and we need to get them implemented. So I want to make sure we hear exactly how we are going to achieve that challenge of getting those rules implemented as soon as possible,” Cantwell said.

Congress passed bipartisan legislation, the Pipes Act of 2016 and the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 intended to strengthen pipeline management oversight and safety. Eleven of the safety rules required under these laws have yet to be finalized by PHMSA.

Cantwell also questioned the witnesses about steps being taken to ensure the security of pipelines from cyberattack. Cantwell requested a Government Accountability Office investigation, which highlighted dynamic and continuous cyber threat to the security of our nation’s pipeline network, including from nation-state actors. Late last year, she and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) called on the Department of Homeland Security to perform an assessment of current cyber and physical security protections for U.S. natural gas, oil, and other hazardous liquid pipelines and a specific plan of action for how DHS will address GAO’s concerns.

“The fact that now we have evidence of state actors ‘pinging’ or being involved in interference with our pipelines is something that could cause catastrophic events,” Cantwell said. “What are we doing to work collaboratively with both [the Transportation Security Administration] and PHMSA to make sure that we have a plan?”

Energy cybersecurity has long been a top priority for Senator Cantwell. In October 2017, she called on the Trump administration to reverse harmful proposed cuts to the administration’s cybersecurity budget. And in March of 2018, she called for greater action from the administration to promote the cybersecurity and resiliency of our nation’s critical energy infrastructure.