On January 3, 2012, President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 into law. The law provides the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) with stronger enforcement tools, doubles maximum fines for safety violations to $2 million, and requires new pipeline safety standards.
Prompted by the deadly 2010 San Bruno, CA gas pipeline explosion that killed 8 people, injured dozens of others and damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes, the new law requires PHMSA to require operators to install automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves and excess flow valves in new or replaced transmission pipeline.
However, some safety advocates feel the law does not align itself with several key recommendations arising from the 2010 investigations, including stricter leak-detection or integrity management requirements. Additionally, the National Transportation and Safety Board suggested that new automatic valves would be highly beneficial on aging pipelines in highly populated areas. It was stated that the disaster in San Bruno would have been far less devastating if the new valves had been installed. Unfortunately, the cost of replacing valves on existing pipelines is far more expensive than during the initial or replacement phase.
US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood stated, “To promote regulatory certainty for the pipeline industry, the new bill prohibits PHMSA during a 2-3 year congressional review period, from issuing regulations establishing leak-detection requirements or expanding integrity management requirements beyond high-consequence areas. However, this restriction would not apply if a condition poses any risk to public safety, property, or the environment.”
According to the PHMSA, The United States currently has approximately 2.3 million miles of pipelines that transport oil, natural gas, and hazardous liquids.
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