The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 12, 2013

Pipeline safety chief says his regulatory process is 'kind of dying'


Some pipelines in the East are more than 100 years old. In the West, suburbs have grown up alongside lines installed when the areas were uninhabited. Age is not necessarily a critical factor if pipe is properly installed, maintained and operated. But many pipelines have changed ownership so many times that installation and maintenance records are unavailable.

In its budget proposal for this year, PHMSA defended its record, stating that its work “often goes unnoticed due to its successful efforts in reducing and containing serious incidents.” The agency included a chart showing that incidents resulting in death or serious injury declined more than 60 percent during that period even as the number of miles of pipeline increased almost 40 percent. Other PHMSA data show modest declines in the number of serious incidents, injuries and fatalities in recent years.

“PHMSA is moving in the right direction,” said Ravindra Chhatre, an investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board who specializes in pipeline accidents. “Sometimes people get frustrated by the pace that it’s moving, but definitely it’s improving.”

The problem, Wiese said in New Orleans, is that it takes too long to issue regulations, in part because industry negotiates for the weakest possible rules.

“Getting any change through regulation, which used to be a viable tool, is no longer viable,” Wiese told the industry representatives. “I really don’t see that as a way to get change. It moves so slow. I’ve been working on rules now for recommendations from our friends at (the National Transportation Safety Board) and U.S. Congress. I’ve been working very hard but with the resources we have I still can’t get those rules out.”

To Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., whose district includes the site of one the deadliest pipeline accidents in American history, Wiese’s comments were surprising only because they were delivered in public.

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