Strict new US safety regulations for pipelines

The US Department of Transportation has issued new regulations to reduce environmental and health risks from the US’s 3.5 million kilometres of oil and gas pipelines.

The action follows a spate of tragedies directly attributable to unsafe pipelines. In an incident last year, three young men were killed when a petrol pipeline exploded and in Carlsbad, New Mexico, 12 people were killed in August this year when a pipeline exploded near their campsite. Indeed, since 1986, over 5,700 pipeline accidents in the US have occurred, killing over 300 people and releasing six million gallons of liquid pollutants into the environment.

Under the regulations, companies that utilise over 875km of hazardous liquid pipeline will have to set up and act on programmes to manage the integrity of their pipelines. The regime will include mandatory tests on pipelines that take hazardous liquids through population centres, environmentally sensitive areas and waterways used to transport vital goods.

President Clinton sparked the move toward setting new regulations when he urged Congress earlier this year to pass a pipeline safety measure, although Congress failed to act at the time. Further disappointment came with an abortive Senate move to increase penalties for pipeline safety infringements, supervision and disclosure on the internet of pipeline information.

“These pipelines are vital to our economy and our daily lives, but when they fail, they can damage the environment, contaminate our drinking water, threaten the safety of our communities and put human lives at risk,” Clinton noted.

The new rule will double the rate of testing in many cases, and will require companies to undertake pipeline risk assessments that can be inspected by government.

There is a recognition that testing alone is insufficient to ensure improvements, so Clinton has directed the Transportation Department (DOT) to take additional steps including issuing a final rule to define environmentally sensitive areas. Other moves include developing a plan to improve hazardous liquid and natural gas pipeline safety standards and ensuring a thorough review of operator plans and programmes for specific pipelines.

The DOT has also been asked to assess the enforcement tools that are available to it, and to work with the US Department of Justice to develop a policy designed to ensure strong, consistent and effective enforcement of safety regulations.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie