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Opening remarks to the Pipeline Safety Hearing, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
Pipeline Safety Hearing, Washington, DC

Welcome to the National Transportation Safety Board's Pipeline Safety Hearing. Because of the importance the Board places on this critical safety issue, all five Board Members will participate in this hearing over the next two days. The safe transportation of natural gas and liquid petroleum products is vital to meeting the energy needs of every community in our country.

Pipelines provide a vital transportation service to America. Today, over 2.1 million miles of pipelines crisscross our country - many of them running under our cities and towns.

Last year, pipelines delivered over 13 billion barrels (558 billion gallons) of petroleum products, such as crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil, to customers across the nation. In addition, the number of customers using natural gas in this country has exceeded 60 million. And, approximately 70 percent of new homes now have natural gas service.

As many of you know, the Safety Board has been the eyes and ears of the American people at accident sites for over three decades. And, in those 30 years, we have seen too many tragedies or near-tragedies that were all caused by the same fundamental problems. We have scheduled this two-day pipeline safety hearing to address two of those problems. Today, we will focus on pipeline inspection and integrity verification. Tomorrow, we will examine leak detection and response.

The Safety Board is currently investigating six pipeline accidents that have occurred since last year, where time-dependent defects are being examined. Those accidents occurred in Knoxville, Tennessee; Bellingham, Washington in which three young men were killed; Winchester, Kentucky; Greenville, Texas; Chalk Point, Maryland; and Carlsbad, New Mexico in which 12 people died.

Many of the hazardous liquid and natural gas transmission pipelines in our country are 30 to 50 years old. The liquid products pipeline that ruptured in Bellingham, Washington on June 10, 1999, was constructed in 1966. The natural gas pipeline that ruptured near Carlsbad, New Mexico on August 19, 2000, was constructed in the early 1950s. Although age alone does not indicate that a pipeline is unsafe, it does make determining the integrity of pipelines increasingly important.

Thirteen years ago, the Safety Board recommended that Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) require pipeline operators to periodically inspect their pipelines to identify time-dependent defects that may prohibit safe operations. Just last week, RSPA issued a final rule to require pipeline operators, who operate 500 or more miles of hazardous liquid pipeline, to establish an integrity management program for high-consequence areas.

  According to RSPA, this rule will cover 87 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines. We will be examining this final rule closely. But, it appears to be the first step to ensuring that pipelines are properly inspected and tested.

The lack of timely recognition of a pipeline rupture is another recurring problem we see repeatedly in our investigations. Following a pipeline rupture, controllers often continue to operate a pipeline or restart a system that had shut down - rather than promptly shutting the system down and isolating the leak. This failure to recognize a problem in a timely manner can significantly add to an accident's severity.

Over the next two days, we will be examining:

  • the technology available to address these important safety issues;
  • limitations of current technology; and
  • actions needed to identify time-dependent pipeline defects before they reach critical size, and to recognize promptly when a failure does occur.

Before I begin, I want to thank each of the panelists who have agreed to participate in our hearing. I also want to thank Tuboscope and PII North America for bringing their in-line inspection tools to our hearing, so that all of us can better understand how they work.

The Tuboscope device is a model of an in-line tool, or smart pig. It is located in the lobby just outside this conference center.

The PII tool will be arriving later this morning. It is used to inspect 12-inch diameter pipelines. I'm told that it is about 17 feet long and weighs about 1,200 pounds. So, rather than bring it into the building, we'll display it on the plaza on the floor above us. You'll be able to see it just outside the building at the top of the escalator. I hope you'll all take the opportunity to examine both items during the next few days. Just as a word of caution, the PII tool has a strong magnetic field. Therefore, if you have a pacemaker, you should not get close to the device.

Before we begin with our scheduled witnesses, it gives me great pleasure to introduce one of the truly exceptional individuals in the U.S. Congress today and a leader in the field of transportation safety.

Congressman James Oberstar has worked on Capitol Hill since 1963. Twenty-six years ago, he was elected as the representative of the 8th Congressional District of Minnesota, and I'm happy to say that he was re-elected again last week - without needing a recount.

From 1989 to 1995, he chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. Currently, he is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and he serves as an Ex Officio member of the Subcommittees on Aviation, Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation, Public Buildings & Economic Development, Railroads, Surface Transportation, and Water Resources & Environment.

Over the years, Congressman Oberstar has worked ceaselessly to improve the safety of the Nation's transportation system.

Last month, Congressman Oberstar introduced the Pipeline Safety Act of 2000, legislation to improve the safe operation of hazardous liquid and natural gas pipelines - each kind of pipeline involved in the Bellingham, Washington and Carlsbad, New Mexico tragedies.

Congressman Oberstar has long been a friend and supporter of the National Transportation Safety Board and its mission. His presence here today is further testament to his commitment to improve the safety of our nation's pipeline infrastructure. Ladies and gentlemen, Congressman Jim Oberstar.

Congressman Oberstar delivered his remarks

Because RSPA Administrator, Kelley Coyner (Coiner), has a scheduling conflict, I want to offer her the opportunity to speak before we begin the staff's presentation of the issues. As I mentioned earlier, RSPA's Office of Pipeline Safety has begun to take action that will strengthen the Nation's pipeline safety requirements, and I want to urge the industry to support RSPA's efforts to establish national pipeline inspection and testing standards.

Administrator Coyner, I appreciate your willingness to be with us this morning.

Administrator Coyner delivered her remarks