Two pipeline safety bills introduced in the U.S. Senate last week would significantly increase the cost of construction and operation for many pipeline operators by tightening safety standards and increasing governmental oversight. On February 3, 2011, Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011.This proposed legislation comes on the heels of the Feinstein-Boxer Bill entitled Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011.

The Lautenberg Bill would:

  • Require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines;
  • Expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high consequence areas and establish regulations as appropriate;
  • Require the Secretary to establish time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders;
  • Make pipeline information, inspections, and standards available to the public on PHMSA’s web site;
  • Increase civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations and add civil penalties for obstructing investigations;
  • Authorize additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees through a phased-in increase over the next four years and authorize appropriations for PHMSA for fiscal years 2011 through 2014 to fund these new positions; and
  • Allow PHMSA to recover costs for oversight of major pipeline design and construction projects from pipeline owners.

The Feinstein-Boxer Bill, which was reintroduced last Monday, was based in large part on the Obama administration’s proposal that was drafted just prior to the midterm elections. The Feinstein-Boxer Bill, like the Lautenberg Bill, would require remote shutoff valves and advanced inspection technology.

The Feinstein-Boxer Bill would require transmission pipeline operators to determine the maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) based on the weakest section or component of the line. The proposal would impose a lower interim MAOP for any pipeline without a traceable, verifiable and complete record or for which a valid MAOP cannot be established through hydrostatic testing records until a pressure test and pressure spike test are completed and documented. The interim MAOP would be no greater than 80% of the highest pressure at which the transmission line segment previously operated. The bill defines the elements of a traceable, verifiable and complete record to include:

  • As-built drawings;
  • Alignment sheets;
  • Specifications;
  • All design, construction, inspection, testing, maintenance and other related records relating to transmission line system components, such as pipe segments, valves, fittings and weld seams; and
  • Such other elements as the Secretary considers appropriate.

The Feinstein-Boxer Bill also would require new leak detection regulations and enhanced oversight for pipelines in areas of the country with seismic activity.

The industry should expect that the heightened Congressional focus on pipeline safety will create momentum for a version of the legislation to reach a vote this session. Final legislation is likely to contain provisions from each of the current proposals.