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Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials - Pipeline
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 Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials - Pipeline

Safe Shipment of HazMat header graphic

What is the problem?

More than 2.5 million miles of pipeline (transmission and distribution lines) crisscross the nation, delivering important resources, such as natural gas, oil, and gasoline, to consumers. Pipelines are integral to our economy, providing the fuel that powers our homes and industries.

Pipelines offer a safe and efficient means of transporting commodities, but if their integrity is compromised, the hazardous materials (HAZMAT) flowing within pose a safety risk to surrounding communities and the environment. Many gas and hazardous liquid transmission and distribution lines run in or near homes and businesses. Natural gas explosions such as those that occurred in 2010 in San Bruno, California; in 2012 in Sissonville, West Virginia; and in 2018 in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, demonstrate the potential for loss of life and property damage when accidents happen.

Three types of pipelines—transmission, distribution, and gathering—work together to deliver products across the country. The National Pipeline Mapping System helps authorities at all levels understand pipeline locations, and supports response efforts in the event of an incident. We’ve found, however, that emergency responders aren’t always adequately trained and knowledgeable about the pipeline systems in their area or how to mitigate the effects of a pipeline incident if it occurs.

What can be done?

Gaps in federal and state safety regulations must be closed, and pipeline operators must voluntarily ensure the highest level of safety for the transportation of HAZMAT through their pipelines— this includes ensuring effective pipeline integrity management programs, thorough and frequent inspections, proactive and robust maintenance to address identified hazardous conditions, and strong safety management systems. Additionally, first responders must be trained in effective HAZMAT response.

To ensure the safe shipment of hazardous materials through pipelines, the following actions should be taken:


  • Work with pipeline trade and standards organizations to modify the pipeline dent acceptance criteria to account for all the factors that lead to pipe failures caused by dents. Promulgate regulations to require that the new criteria be incorporated into integrity management programs.
  • Require operators to either repair all excavated dent defects or install a local leak-detection system at each location where a dent is not repaired, continuously monitor for hydrocarbons, and promptly take corrective action to stop a detected leak.

State/Local Government

  • Effectively train first responders to recognize different types of leaks and spills and respond appropriately.
  • Eliminate the professional engineer licensure exemption for public utility work and require a professional engineer’s seal on public utility engineering drawings (Massachusetts only).

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