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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pipeline Safety and Security: Federal Programs

Paul W. Parfomak
Specialist in Energy and Infrastructure Policy

Nearly half a million miles of oil and natural gas transmission pipeline crisscross the United States. While an efficient and fundamentally safe means of transport, many pipelines carry hazardous materials with the potential to cause public injury and environmental damage. The nation's pipeline networks are also widespread, running alternately through remote and densely populated regions; consequently, these systems are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attack. 

The 109th Congress passed the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-468) to improve pipeline safety and security practices. The 110th Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53), which mandated pipeline security inspections and potential enforcement (§ 1557) and required federal plans for critical pipeline security and incident recovery (§ 1558). The 111th Congress is overseeing the implementation of these acts and considering new legislation related to the nation's pipeline network. Recent legislative proposals include the Clean, Affordable, and Reliable Energy Act of 2009 (S. 1333), which would change natural gas pipeline integrity assessment intervals (§ 401); the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act (H.R. 2220), which would mandate a new federal pipeline security study (§ 406); and the Hazardous Material Transportation Safety Act of 2009 (H.R. 4106), which seeks to improve the collection and use of hazardous material transportation incident data (§ 203) and increase staffing at the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (§304). 

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), within the Department of Transportation (DOT), is the lead federal regulator of pipeline safety. PHMSA uses a variety of strategies to promote compliance with its safety regulations, including inspections, investigation of safety incidents, and maintaining a dialogue with pipeline operators. The agency clarifies its regulatory expectations through a range of communications and relies upon a range of enforcement actions to ensure that pipeline operators correct safety violations and take preventive measures to preclude future problems. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the lead federal agency for security in all modes of transportation—including pipelines. The agency oversees industry's identification and protection of pipelines by developing security standards; implementing measures to mitigate security risk; building stakeholder relations; and monitoring compliance with security standards, requirements, and regulation. While PHMSA and TSA have distinct missions, pipeline safety and security are intertwined. 

Although pipeline impacts on the environment remain a concern of some public interest groups, both federal government and industry representatives suggest that federal pipeline programs have been on the right track. As oversight of the federal role in pipeline safety and security continues, Congress may focus on the effectiveness of state pipeline damage prevention programs, the promulgation of low-stress pipeline regulations, federal pipeline safety enforcement, and the relationship between DHS and the DOT with respect to pipeline security, among other provisions in federal pipeline safety regulation. In addition to these specific issues, Congress may wish to assess how the various elements of U.S. pipeline safety and security activity fit together in the nation's overall strategy to protect transportation infrastructure. 

Date of Report: February 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL33347
Price: $29.95

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