Pipeline Safety Bill with Barletta Amendment Signed into Law
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) today hailed the signing of pipeline safety legislation into law, noting that it included his language that protects the ability of states to use their own pipeline inspectors when dealing with federal agencies. President Obama has signed S. 2276, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act, which reauthorizes the pipeline safety program administered by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
“In Pennsylvania, our Public Utility Commission has been trying to arrange an agreement under which we could use our own pipeline inspectors, instead of relying on regional federal inspectors who are not as available or accessible,” Barletta said. “This legislation allows Pennsylvania and other states better flexibility in keeping pipelines safe.”
The Barletta language involves the use of interstate agent agreements between states and PHMSA, which regulates the safety of pipelines at the federal level. The agency is responsible for ensuring safety in the design, construction, testing, operation, and maintenance of pipelines. It is more beneficial for states to be able to use their own networks of pipeline inspectors, since PHMSA has only five regional offices to serve the entire country. Many states, including Pennsylvania, want to be able to use their own resources to protect pipeline safety, which requires interstate agent agreements with PHMSA.
- Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study interstate agent agreements to examine their benefits.
- Requires an explanation from PHMSA if the agency denies a state’s request for an interstate agreement.
Pennsylvania is home to thousands of miles of pipeline, with many more thousands of miles needing to be built to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas. In total, the United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, with some 2.6 million miles of pipelines transporting 64 percent of the energy commodities used in the country.
The overall PIPES Act:
Improves safety by closing gaps in federal standards
- Requires PHMSA to set federal minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities, and allows states to go above those standards for intrastate facilities.
- Authorizes emergency order authority that is tailored to the pipeline sector, taking into account public health and safety, network, and customer impacts.
- Updates regulations for certain liquefied natural gas facilities to better match changing technology and markets and take into account national security considerations.
- Increases inspection requirements for certain underwater oil pipelines to enhance safety.
- Ensures that pipeline operators receive timely post-inspection information from PHMSA to allow them to maintain and improve their safety efforts, and ensures that product composition information is quickly provided to first responders after an incident.
- Improves protection of coastal areas, marine coastal waters, and the Great Lakes by explicitly designating them as unusually environmentally sensitive to pipeline failures.
Enhances the quality and timeliness of PHMSA rulemakings
- Requires PHMSA to update Congress every 90 days on outstanding statutory mandates, including the status of each mandate, reasons for its incompletion, and estimated completion date.
- Requests two Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies on the effectiveness of integrity management programs for both natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.
Promotes better use of data and technology to improve pipeline safety
- Tasks GAO with investigating how to use technology to improve third-party damage prevention (a leading cause of releases).
- Requires GAO to study the latest innovations in pipeline materials, corrosion prevention technology, and training.
- Creates a working group of PHMSA, states, industry stakeholders, and safety groups to develop recommendations on how to create an information sharing system to improve safety outcomes.
- Authorizes PHMSA to study the feasibility of a national integrated pipeline safety database to have a clearer picture of federal and state safety oversight efforts.
Leverages federal and state pipeline safety resources
- Authorizes states to participate in interstate pipeline inspections.
- Provides tools to enhance PHMSA’s efforts to hire pipeline safety personnel.
- Requires the DOT Inspector General to study staff resource constraints and make recommendations to Congress to address PHMSA’s hiring challenges and training needs.