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Remarks for the Association of Oil Pipelines annual winter meeting, Washington, DC
Marion C. Blakey
Association of Oil Pipelines annual winter meeting, Washington, DC

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to participate in your annual meeting - - I am delighted to be here. I would like to extend a special thanks to Ben Cooper and to the leaders and representatives of America's liquid pipeline industry who are here with us today.

Just over four months ago, the terrorist attacks of September 11th ushered in a new focus on safety and security in our Nation's transportation infrastructure. Certainly, the American pipeline industry plays a crucial role in fueling this nation's transportation system. In fact, ninety-seven percent of all transportation energy is supplied by petroleum - - and pipelines deliver approximately 14.4 billion barrels of it annually in the United States.

However, the nation's nearly 200,000 miles of oil pipelines support much more than America's cars, buses, trucks, trains and boats - - pipelines provide the energy that sustains our economy, our commerce, and our national defense.

Now more than ever we must ensure the safety, security and stability of America's pipeline system.

The Association of Oil Pipe Lines, its members, representatives, and leaders, have quickly risen to the challenge. Within days after September 11th, the AOPL, in conjunction with the American Petroleum Institute, began coordinating security measures for pipeline operators.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dave Lemmon, Bill Scott and other representatives from Colonial Pipeline to discuss the implementation of new security measures by members of the industry. I was encouraged to find that many pipeline companies are restricting access to pipeline facilities, providing specialized security training for employees, studying network vulnerabilities, validating threat scenarios, updating current security plans, and coordinating pipeline security measures with local authorities and agencies.

I want to commend AOPL and everyone here today for their continuing efforts to encourage and promote pipeline security measures - - there is no doubt your work will ensure the stability and future development of this vital system.

Even though our nation is focused predominantly on security, we all know that safety is a priority that cannot be compromised.

To ensure this end, the NTSB and the AOPL have worked toward the same objective - - moving petroleum products safely through America's extensive pipeline system.

For more than 30 years, the Safety Board's mission has been to learn about the cause of accidents and to identify ways to prevent future accidents. We conduct thorough, independent, and objective investigations and issue recommendations to correct the problems we discover. Together with organizations - - such as the AOPL - - that provide specific expertise needed in particular investigations, our small agency of less than 500 employees has investigated thousands of aviation, railroad, marine, highway, and pipeline accidents.

I want to thank you, and your members, for your recent efforts to improve pipeline safety. According to Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety records, liquid pipeline accidents have substantially declined since 1994. However, during this same time period there have been several significant accidents drawing national attention. These accidents moved OPS to enact several new rules, which may lead to improved pipeline safety.

Special recognition is due to Ben Cooper, the AOPL, and the industry as a whole in supporting the enactment of these new rules, which should improve pipeline safety by delineating integrity management in high consequence areas for liquid pipelines, by updating corrosion control rules, and by improving the collection of accident data.

The Safety Board recognizes your efforts - - as well as the work of Office of Pipeline Safety - - in supporting the implementation of these integrity management rules, which address many long-standing safety concerns of the Board.

The operation of pipelines with integrity problems has been a recurring issue for the Safety Board since 1987, when the Board recommended that OPS require pipeline operators to periodically inspect their pipelines to identify corrosion, mechanical damage, and other time-dependent defects.

In fact, during the last year the Safety Board completed three accident investigations that involved safety issues addressed by OPS's integrity management rules. In 1999, tensile stress and a corrosive environment caused a pipe to rupture in Knoxville, Tennessee, and dump 53,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Tennessee River. In January 2000, 490,000 gallons of crude oil spilled near Winchester, Kentucky when a pipe burst as a result of fatigue cracking. Similarly, in March 2000, 564,000 gallons of gasoline were released into a creek near Greenville, Texas when a pipe ruptured due to corrosion-fatigue.

The Safety Board is currently investigating two other accidents that involve pipelines with time-dependent defects - - one in Bellingham, Washington, where three people died after 250,000 gallons of gasoline were released, and the other in Chalk Point, Maryland where 125,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled. We intend to complete our work on these accidents soon. It is our hope that implementation of effective integrity management programs will identify time-dependent defects before catastrophic failures occur.

Thanks to the work and support of AOPL and its members, progress has also been made to improve corrosion requirements for liquid pipelines. Just a few weeks ago - - on December 27th - - the Office of Pipeline Safety issued new rules that will improve requirement for corrosion protection.

These rules address Safety Board recommendations that stemmed from a 1996 accident investigation in Lively, Texas. At the conclusion of our investigation, the Board recommended that pipeline operators evaluate and monitor the condition of exposed pipeline coating as well as the adequacy of cathodic protection systems. Once these recommendations are enacted by all pipeline operators, we should see the number of serious corrosion related accidents decline.

Additional successes were recently achieved in the area of accident data reporting. Your support for improved accident reporting requirements, along with Safety Board recommendations, led the Office of Pipeline Safety, just two weeks ago on January 8, 2002, to implement rules requiring improved data reporting for hazardous liquid pipeline accidents.

For years, the Safety Board has argued that better information about the causes of accidents would help the industry allocate scarce resources and improve safety where it is needed most. Thanks to your work, this information may become available.

Finally, OPS recently addressed another long-standing concern of the Safety Board - - timely recognition of pipeline leaks and ruptures. In the new integrity management rules, OPS requires pipeline operators to have a more effective means to detect leaks on its pipeline system. In all but one accident mentioned here today, significant delays took place in recognizing the rupture. Closing the gap between a rupture and shutting down the pipeline will reduce the consequences of the accident.

Even though you have supported efforts to increase safety measures, such as OPS's most recent integrity management rules - - obviously more must be done. You have the responsibility to ensure that effective safety improvements programs are implemented and rigorously followed.

And, there will be others evaluating your progress - - Not only will the Safety Board be watching but Congress also remains concerned that OPS and the pipeline industry is not doing enough to improve the safety and security of the system.

Now more than ever, the pipeline industry is faced with significant safety and security challenges. The fortitude of the pipeline industry, its representatives and workers is being tested. The safety issues have been difficult ones for a number of years and the new security challenges are particularly daunting. Now's the time for industry and government to pull together to not only ensure the continued safety and security of our pipeline system but also to secure the future of the United States - - the country Abraham Lincoln appropriately referred to as the last best hope for mankind.

Our cooperative spirit will help remind the terrorists who attacked this country of a fact they apparently overlooked - - that the true strength of America lies not in the steel of its buildings but in the resolve, capability and the hearts of its people.

Thank you.