The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 12, 2013

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

(Continued)

Instead of requiring operators to install the valves quickly, the act directs PHMSA to spend a year studying the mechanics and costs of such a rule and then spend another year deliberating the implications. It also stipulates that PHMSA may not proceed down the road toward regulations — a process that typically takes 18 months to three years — until it first determines that remote shutoff valves are economically feasible for the industry. Even then, the new rule could be applied only to pipelines laid in the future.

“Laughable,” Speier said of the provision in a recent interview. Industry, which has argued for decades that remote shutoff valves are too costly, will no doubt continue to do so, she said.

In addition to Wiese, PHMSA sent at least three officials to address the safety conference at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. Two former PHMSA officials who left the agency to work as industry consultants also addressed the group of 300 to 400 oil and gas pipeline operators. Throughout the week, the Louisiana Gas Association operated a hospitality suite overlooking Bourbon Street, where regulators and industry representatives gathered each evening to sip libations and drop beads to passers-by.

Speaking just before Wiese, Bob Kipp, president of the Common Ground Alliance, an industry-backed safety group, drew on Sun Tzu’s classic treatise, “The Art of War,” in urging the crowd to “keep your friends close and your regulators closer.” The comment drew chuckles from the audience.

Groups outside the industry have found PHMSA far less accessible.

In preparing for a recent trip to Washington, a delegation organized by the National Wildlife Federation tried to set up appointments with the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and PHMSA to discuss pipeline safety. While the delegation was welcomed by the State Department and the EPA, a PHMSA official denied the request without explanation.

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