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Improving Pipeline Safety by Protecting Our Communities and Our Environment

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November 3, 2000

Improving Pipeline Safety by Protecting Our Communities and Our Environment

Today, the Administration is taking steps to ensure the safety of the over two million miles of oil and gas pipeline that criss-cross our country. These pipelines are important to our economy and our daily lives, transporting the products that fuel our cars and heat our homes. While the overall safety record of our nation's pipeline system is strong, accidents still occur. These pipeline failures can damage the environment, contaminate our drinking water, threaten the safety of our communities, and put human lives at risk. Recent tragedies in Bellingham, Washington, and near Carlsbad, New Mexico, have underscored the need to improve pipeline safety nationwide.

Earlier this year, the Administration proposed comprehensive pipeline safety legislation to establish better standards for the inspection and maintenance of our Nation's pipelines, backed by rigorous enforcement, effective state-federal partnerships, the best technology achievable, and a community's right to know about nearby pipelines. Despite significant efforts by many Members of Congress, comprehensive pipeline safety legislation has not been passed this year. While the Administration continues to support Congressional action to strengthen and improve our federal pipeline safety laws, we are taking steps using existing authority to ensure that our pipeline system is sound, our communities are safe, and our environment is protected.

Issuing New Regulation for Pipeline Safety. Today, the Department of Transportation is issuing a strong, new regulation to improve the safety of hazardous liquid pipelines in populated and environmentally sensitive areas. Under these new regulations, companies that operate more than 500 miles of hazardous liquid pipeline will be required to establish and follow new programs to effectively manage the integrity of their pipelines. As a part of the new programs, pipeline operators will be required to:

  • Perform a baseline assessment of their pipeline within seven years (with at least half of the pipeline to be assessed within three and a half years).
  • Regularly test their pipeline generally no less than once every five years.
  • Perform assessments using an internal inspection tool, pressure testing, or another, equally effective test method.
  • Follow a rigorous repair schedule to fix problems identified through these inspections.
  • Employ methods for leak detection, and use emergency flow restricting devices where necessary.

Taking Comprehensive Actions to Improve Pipeline Safety. In addition, President Clinton is directing the Department of Transportation to take a number of additional actions, using existing authorities, to improve pipeline safety nationwide. These actions include:

  • Improving pipeline safety standards. DOT will take a number of steps to improve pipeline safety standards, including (1) issuing a final rule to define environmentally sensitive areas within 30 days; (2) developing a comprehensive plan no later than January 15, 2001, for further improving hazardous liquid and natural gas pipeline safety standards, including further rulemakings on integrity management and corrosion control; and (3) ensuring that specific operator plans and programs are thoroughly reviewed by the Department.
  • Strengthening enforcement. DOT will promptly assess the use of all enforcement tools available to the Office of Pipeline Safety and develop a policy designed to ensure strong, consistent, and effective enforcement, in coordination with the Attorney General.
  • Enhancing federal-state partnerships. DOT will issue guidelines within 60 days, outlining opportunities and responsibilities for states to participate in the oversight of interstate pipelines. The guidelines would cover new construction and incident investigation, the review of specific operator plans and programs, and additional oversight that will add to overall pipeline safety and address local concerns.
  • Providing the public with better information. DOT will develop a comprehensive plan for expanding public participation in pipeline safety decisions and for providing increased access to gas and hazardous liquid pipeline data and information, including: (1) improving public access to safety-related condition reports, pipeline incident reports, integrity management programs, and operator qualification programs; (2) collecting more complete and detailed information on the causes of accidents; and (3) helping communities to more effectively address their pipeline safety concerns.
  • Supporting research and development. DOT will develop a cooperative program to establish research priorities, coordinate and leverage research funding, and maximize efforts for ensuring pipeline integrity, in coordination with the Secretary of Energy and in consultation with Federal and State agencies, academic and research institutions, industry, pipeline safety advocates, environmental organizations, and others.

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