Investigation Uncovers Major Gaps in State Pipeline Safety Programs

The U.S. Transportation Department Inspector General has taken a hard look at the way the agency oversees grants to states for pipeline safety and the results aren’t pretty.    According to the investigation report,  the IG’s office picked five state programs and looked at more than 400 program requirements.   It found 135 non-compliances.    Those included not having data to track whether inspections were done within required timeframes, failing to establish minimum qualifications for inspectors and lacking guidelines for risk factors for pipelines – a pretty important consideration since about 20% of the nations pipelines are more than 50 years old.

Why is this important.  For one thing, between 2008 and 2013, funding for these grants more than doubled from $19.5 million to over $46 million.  The report makes it clear the government doesn’t know exactly how that money is being spent.  The immediate driver of the investigation was a  2010 explosion on a San Bruno,California   natural gas pipeline that killed eight, injured 58 and destroyed 38 homes.

The agency says it is trying to address the problem.  PHMSA, the office that has authority over pipeline safety is looking at a number of changes, including pushing safety management programs for pipeline operators and possibly reopening the rules on Operator Qualifications.

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