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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping America’s Pipelines Safe and Secure: Key Issues for Congress

Paul W. Parfomak
Specialist in Energy and Infrastructure Policy

Nearly half a million miles of pipeline transporting natural gas, oil, and other hazardous liquids crisscross the United States. While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, many pipelines carry materials with the potential to cause public injury and environmental damage. The nation’s pipeline networks are also widespread and vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attack. Recent pipeline accidents in Marshall, MI, San Bruno, CA, Allentown, PA, and Laurel, MT, have heightened congressional concern about pipeline risks and drawn criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board. Both government and industry have taken numerous steps to improve pipeline safety and security over the last 10 years. Nonetheless, while many stakeholders agree that federal pipeline safety programs have been on the right track, the spate of recent pipeline incidents suggest there continues to be significant room for improvement. Likewise, the threat of terrorist attack remains a concern.

The federal pipeline safety program was authorized through the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, and is currently operating under a continuing resolution. The 112th Congress is considering new legislation to reauthorize the program for four years and to improve the safety and security of the U.S. pipeline network. Legislative proposals include the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011 (S. 234), the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 275), the Clean Rivers Act of 2011 (S. 1502), the Pipeline Safety and Community Empowerment Act of 2011 (H.R. 22), the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2845), the Pipeline Modernization for Safety Act of 2011 (H.R. 2871), and the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2937). Pipeline-related provisions are also found in a draft of the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2011 approved by the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (S. 1596) would appropriate federal pipeline safety funds for FY2012.

The legislative proposals above contain a broad range of provisions addressing pipeline safety and security. Among the most significant are provisions that would increase the number of federal pipeline safety inspectors, would require automatic shutoff valves for transmission pipelines, would mandate internal inspections of transmission pipelines, would increase civil penalties for pipeline safety violations, and would mandate reviews of diluted bitumen pipeline regulation. S. 1502 and H.R. 2937 would mandate a review of federal safety regulations for pipelines crossing inland bodies of water. The Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2011 would mandate a study regarding the relative roles and responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation with respect to pipeline security.

As it debates reauthorization of the federal pipeline safety program and oversees the federal role in pipeline security, Congress may wish to assess how the various elements of U.S. pipeline safety and security fit together in the nation’s overall strategy to protect transportation infrastructure. Pipeline safety and security necessarily involve many groups: federal agencies, oil and gas pipeline associations, large and small pipeline operators, and local communities. Reviewing how these groups work together to achieve common goals could be an oversight challenge for Congress.

Date of Report: September 26, 2011
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R41536
Price: $29.95

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