Paul W. Parfomak Specialist in Energy and Infrastructure
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 (NTSB). 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 attacks, especially cyberattacks on pipeline control systems, remains
The federal pipeline safety program is authorized through the fiscal year
ending September 30, 2015, under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory
Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112- 90), which was signed
by President Obama on January 3, 2012. The act contains a broad range of provisions
addressing pipeline safety and security. Among the most significant are
provisions that could increase the number of federal pipeline safety
inspectors, require automatic shutoff valves for transmission pipelines,
mandate verification of maximum allowable operating pressure for gas transmission
pipelines, increase civil penalties for pipeline safety violations, and mandate
reviews of diluted bitumen pipeline regulation.
Both government and industry have taken numerous steps to improve pipeline
safety and security over the last 10 years. Nonetheless, the NTSB has
identified improvement of federal pipeline safety oversight as a “top ten”
priority for 2013. The leading pipeline industry associations have concurred.
Whether renewed efforts by industry, combined with additional oversight by
federal agencies, will further enhance the safety and security of U.S.
pipelines remains to be seen.
As Congress oversees the federal pipeline safety program and the federal role
in pipeline security, key issues of focus may be pipeline agency staff
resources, automatic pipeline shutoff valves, penalties for safety
violations, safety regulations for oil sands crudes, and the possible need for pipeline
security regulations, among other concerns. In addition to these specific
issues, Congress may assess how the various elements of U.S. pipeline
safety and security activity 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: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 38 Order Number: R41536 Price: $29.95
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