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Speeches

Board Meeting: Safety Study on Integrity Management of Gas Transmission Pipelines in High Consequence Areas, Acting Chairman Hart's Opening Statement
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Board Room and Conference Center
1/27/2015

​Good morning. Welcome to the Board room of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board Members, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a Safety Study on the Integrity Management of Gas Transmission Pipelines in High Consequence Areas.

America is criss-crossed by almost 300,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines, more than half of which were installed before 1970. Older pipelines have an increased risk of failure due to longer exposure to their environment. In addition, newer pipelines have a lower risk of failure due to improvement in material structures, construction, and quality control practices during installation.

The transportation of natural gas by transmission pipelines has generally proven to be very safe, but a pipeline rupture can be devastating. On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch-diameter segment of pipeline owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) ruptured in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California.  Because there were no automatic or remotely controlled valves, and because more than an hour passed before the manual valves could be shut off to stop the flow, the release of natural gas was very large – nearly 50  million cubic feet. Hence, once the gas ignited, it resulted in prolonged, intense fires that killed eight people, injured many others, and prompted an evacuation. Thirty-eight homes were destroyed and 70 were damaged. According to a newspaper account, the event was so strong that residents and emergency responders initially thought it was an earthquake. Today, empty lots remain in the San Bruno community and the residents’ lives have been forever changed. 

By looking deeper into the integrity management of gas transmission pipelines throughout the industry, we hope to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
The pipeline that ruptured in San Bruno was installed in 1956, and our investigation found that both the pipeline material and several of the welds were deficient even by the construction standards of its day. But we also found that PG&E’s inadequate pipeline integrity management program failed to detect the defects, so they were never corrected.

Inadequate integrity management also featured prominently in our investigations of the 2009 pipeline rupture in Palm City, Florida, and the 2012 pipeline rupture in Sissonville, West Virginia.

In 2003, after a series of earlier accidents, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) established integrity management regulations for gas transmission pipelines. The goal of these new rules was to ensure that adequate protections were in place to reduce the risk that pipeline failures posed to life and property.

The gas integrity management regulation has now been in place for more than a decade and a full cycle of integrity assessment of pipelines in populated areas has been completed. Now is an appropriate time to look at areas where improvements in the integrity management process can be made. The study that we consider today examines areas of the integrity management programs for gas transmission that need to be strengthened.

The study’s authors worked closely with stakeholders, including federal and state inspectors, pipeline operators, industry associations, and companies that provide integrity management and geospatial services.  The pipeline safety community as a whole contributed considerably to this study, and we appreciate their contribution.

Among other topics, the study explored how high consequence areas (HCAs) along pipelines are identified, how risk in HCAs is calculated and managed, what technologies are available for the inspection of pipelines, which technologies are most prominently in use in interstate and intrastate pipelines, respectively, and federal and state oversight.

The authors sought to answer a fundamental question: Are there areas where integrity management programs need improvement?

If so, the time for improvement is now, before another tragic pipeline accident occurs.

Now I will turn to Acting Executive Director Tom Zoeller.

Acting Executive Director Zoeller.