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
- 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.
- 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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