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President to Sign New Natural Gas Safety Act

Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate passed the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act (PIPES Act).  This bill is now headed to President Obama to be signed into law.  In addition to reauthorizing the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through FY2019, this soon-to-be law enacts substantive changes in the pipeline industry’s regulatory landscape.

Highlights of Act

  • Increases authority for the Secretary of Transportation to quickly impose restrictions in the event of a serious accident
  • Increases state funding to run more aggressive pipeline inspections
  • Institutes state and federal collaboration on pipeline mapping
  • Insures collaboration between state and federal investigators on regular safety, as well as post-accident, inspections and investigations
  • Assesses PHMSA’s integrity management programs for liquid and natural gas pipelines
  • Provides for greater transparency and publication of reportable releases
  • Contemplates creation of new safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities with permission for states to go above these standards
  • Creates task force to investigate causes and impacts of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak
  • Imposes new fees on entities operating underground natural gas storage facilities
  • Increases inspection requirements of specific underwater oil pipelines
  • Mandates research, testing, and publication of innovations in pipeline materials, corrosion prevention, and training
  • Authorizes PHMSA to establish a nationwide database of oversight activities

This bill was originally introduced in the Senate by Nebraska Republican Senator, Deb Fischer, but gained overwhelming bi-partisan support, passing the House with very few amendments and the Senate with unanimous consent.

The Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, the San Bruno and Philadelphia gas explosions and the BP Gulf of Mexico Deep Horizon spill all served to highlight to the U.S. Congress, and its constituents, the inherent dangers that are possible with the exploration, transmission and use of natural gas.  These natural gas accidents coupled with the proliferation of new pipelines serving the recently accessible shale gas in the Northeast, served as a motivation for the PIPES Act.

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