National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC - In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, which was meeting on the reauthorization of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart recognized recent improvements in the agency's performance but prodded them to enhance the effectiveness of their oversight functions.
Hart credited PHMSA with implementing regulations addressing integrity management programs for gas transmission pipelines, hazardous liquid pipelines, and natural gas distribution pipeline systems.
Saying that PHMSA needed to make additional improvements, Hart cited three pipeline accidents between 2004 and 2009 in which the Safety Board discovered that both PHMSA and operator oversight of risk-based assessment programs has been lacking and has failed to detect flaws and weaknesses.
As a result of the investigations, Hart indicated that the NTSB is concerned that the level of self-evaluation and oversight currently being exercised is not uniformly applied by some pipeline operators and PHMSA to ensure that the risk-based safety programs are effective.
"The NTSB believes that to ensure effective risk-based integrity management programs are employed throughout the pipeline industry, PHMSA must establish an aggressive oversight program that thoroughly examines each operator's decision-making process for each element of its integrity management program," he said.
Hart concluded his testimony by briefly summarizing four pipeline accident investigations (Cleburne, TX.; Marshall, Mich.; Romeoville, Ill.; and San Bruno, Calif.) that the Safety Board has undertaken since the start of the summer.
Hart said that while the investigations of the Marshall rupture and spill of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of crude oil, and the San Bruno rupture and fire that killed seven, are still in the very early stages, area of focus on either or both investigations would likely include control center operations, operator notification and emergency responder activities, pipeline inspection and maintenance, oversight activities and actions, and pipeline aging.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.