Feds fail to inspect 2 Million miles of pipelines

Central Valley Business Times.

Report: Feds fail to inspect 2 Million miles of pipelines 

July 30, 2013 8:46am

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•  Is it rupture roulette?

•  “Like searching for gas leaks with a lit candle”

Some two million miles of pipelines carrying natural gas, petroleum and hazardous liquids are going uninspected by the federal agency charged with safety oversight, says the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

It claims that only a small fraction of the nation’s vast network of pipelines has undergone any sort of inspection in recent years, including several hundred pipelines that have spilled or broken down.

(Download a pdf of the inspection record by clicking on the link below.)

As a result, the safety and reliability of much of this key but volatile transport grid remains unknown, it says.

Records obtained from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that:

• Of the more than 2.6 million oil, natural gas and propane pipeline miles regulated by PHMSA less than a fifth (583,692) has been inspected by federal or state officials since 2006;

• Another 132,300 miles have been inspected by their operators during that same period but PHMSA cannot say whether any industry inspections have been independently reviewed;

• Since 2006, there have been more than 300 incidents, such as a spill, explosion or breakdown, which triggered no follow-up inspection.

Despite the figures, PHMSA’s latest annual report on to Congress on inspection and enforcement needs is less than one page long and mentions no need or even desire to increase inspections.

“At the current rate, most of our oil and gas pipeline network will not be inspected in this generation,” says Kathryn Douglass, an attorney for PEER, noting that the present rate of less than one thousand federal and state inspections each year cannot keep pace with pipeline expansion.

“Inspections are supposed to prevent damaging incidents but the main way pipeline deficiencies now become manifest is when ruptures or explosions make them obvious,” she says. “This approach to pipeline safety is like searching for gas leaks with a lit candle.”

Nor is it clear that the causes of pipeline breakdowns are effectively remedied even after major spills or blasts occur, says PEER. In the period since 2006, PHMSA recorded 3,599 incidents, defined as a release resulting in injury or death or major property losses, but took only 1,526 enforcement actions during the same period, according to PEER’s review of the records

Similarly, months following “major pipeline disasters,” as PEER puts it, PHMSA has yet to implement the vast majority of corrective measures recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“PHMSA is a sleepy, industry-dominated agency that tries to remain obscure by doing as little as possible,” says Ms. Douglass.




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