As Pipelines Proliferate, Safety Standards Lag Behind

Pipes carrying liquified natural gas to and from a holding tank, seen in background, at Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Safety regulations for automatic shutoff valves on pipelines crisscrossing the country are no closer to being regulated today than they were nearly a decade ago, according to a top Department of Transportation official.

The safety and maintenance of the network of pipelines transporting 64 percent of oil and gas consumed in the United States is overseen, in part, by Howard Elliott, administrator of the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration or PHMSA.

Elliott was appointed just seven months ago and on Thursday he appeared before a House subcommittee to testify on the administration’s enforcement of dozens of gas and hazardous liquid pipeline safety requirements.

But the status report he offered was met by consternation from lawmakers.

Of the 42 pipeline safety rules mandated under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, only 34 have been fully completed.

When the legislation was reauthorized again in 2016, 19 new safety mandates were ordered and as of Thursday, only 13 are completed.

Committee members complained the absence of a full complement of safety rules is responsible for a wide range of serious and deadly incidents in recent years, ranging from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in California.

Elliott told lawmakers he was “unable to put his finger on” what was causing the delays with the regulations, prompting a harsh retort from Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass.

“So what is the problem?” Capuano said. “You’ve said you have enough staffing. You said you have enough funding. You said you have a good relationship with the Office of Management and Budget.”

“Reauthorization for PHMSA comes up next year,” he continued. “Why should I have an agency exist if you’re not doing your job? Why bother? I’m not asking about regulations that are six months overdue but eight years.”

According to a report cited by Elliott at the hearing Thursday, of the accidents that occur at natural gas pipelines, 35 percent to 55 percent are preventable.

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