Legislation expanding  governmental regulation of pipelines and increasing enforcement power against operators received unanimous approval in the U.S. Senate and now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for approval. The Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011, (S.275) introduced in the aftermath of the San Bruno incident by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., would change the requirements for existing pipelines and new construction.

In addition to reauthorizing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, through fiscal year 2015, the bill seeks stiffer civil penalties, payment of administrative costs to PHMSA for oversight of major pipeline construction, and expansion of current integrity management requirements for U.S. pipelines.

If enacted, the bill will:

  • More than double fines from $100,000 per day to $250,000, and from $1 million for a series of pipeline violations to $2.5 million;
  • Authorize more federal pipeline safety inspectors through a phased-in increase over the next four years;
  • Require PHMSA to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high consequence areas;
  • Authorize PHMSA to recover costs for coordination of the Alaska Pipeline project and for design reviews and oversight of construction of any pipeline that costs more than $3.4 billion or that utilizes new or “novel” technology designs;
  • Require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines;
  • Allow PHMSA to require the installation of automatic shut-off valves on older pipelines;
  • Expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities;
  • Establish stricter 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 website.