Federal Pipeline Safety Program Reauthorization

Since the federal government in the United States is responsible for setting the minimum safety standards for all pipelines in this country, that puts the U.S. Congress in charge of these efforts. Congress writes the statutes which then PHMSA needs to turn into rules to G.W._Bush_delivers_State_of_the_Union_Addressimplement the wishes of Congress. Every four years Congress reviews and then reauthorizes the national pipeline safety program, which is normally their main effort at reviewing the statutes. That began last year, and is set to finish up in 2016. The U.S. Senate Commerce and Science Committee held hearings and produced a reauthorization bill in late 2015. That bill with some amendments passed in the full Senate in early March and can be found here.

There are two committees in the U.S. House that have jurisdiction over pipeline safety. Both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), and the House Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) held hearings on reauthorization in late February and early March. A subcommittee of E&C held a mark up on a proposed bill in March which was passed on to the full committee, and that proposed bill can be found here. In early April the House T&I Committee released a draft bill, which can be found here.

The Pipeline Safety Trust pays close attention to reauthorization and has been involved with all the bills mentioned, and have been invited to testify to these committee. Our testimony can be found here.

We have put together a document that compares what is included in the three different bills, talks briefly about our concerns, and shows which version of different efforts we think are the best for moving pipeline safety forward. This Bill Comparison document can be found here, and it will be updated as the different bills get amended and voted on. At some point this year the bill that was passed by the Senate, and the bills working their way through the House Committees, will have to be consolidated and agreed on as a single bill. Check this page for updates on that process.

Congressional efforts such as this reauthorization are difficult processes for the public to weigh in on, because they are constantly changing and there is not a clear timeline or contact for where to send comments. If your Congressional Representatives are on any of the committees mentioned above it makes sense to weigh in with them early in the process before bills get passed by those committees. After the committees pass bills, or if your representatives are not on those committees it is good to let your representatives know how you feel about any provisions of the bills you feel are really good, or that you have concerns with.

UPDATE 4/28/2016:  Both House Committees have marked up bills and have passed out Manager’s amendments.  The two committees will now try to reconcile their differences before the bills go to the House floor for a vote.  If the House succeeds in passing out a bill, it will then be sent to conference committee with the Senate to reconcile any differences with the Senate bill.  You can find our updated comparison chart at the link in the fourth paragraph of the original blog above. 

Community Technical Assistance Grants Get Axed

Over the years the Pipeline Safety Trust has let people know when the opportunity to apply for the Community Technical Assistance Grants administered by PHMSA opens up. These grants are the only funding source that has been reliably available to help community groups and local governments hire their own experts to help them understand and possibly get more involved in pipeline safety issues in their communities. It was one of the early wins the Pipeline Safety Trust had with Congress getting this program put into law and eventually funded years ago.

Normally these grants open up for applications in late January. Today we received the note below from PHMSA notifying us that Congress in their supreme wisdom pulled the funding for this grant program late last year. We have inquired as to why Congress made this decision since there could be lots of reasons, such as:
•  Concern that the grant program was not functioning as Congress intended (unlikely since to our knowledge there has been no inquiries by Congress)
•  Lobbying from oil and gas industry to kill the program since they don’t always like local communities sticking their noses in what some in the industry thinks is their business. (quite possible)
•  General Tea Party thinking that government is bad so cut whatever you can get away with anytime you have a chance. (quite possible)
•  PHMSA quietly asked for program to go away out of concerns with implementation or resources necessary to administer (unlikely and denied by PHMSA)
•  The conspiracy theory of your choice.

Anyway, the Community Technical Assistance Grant program is dead for at least this year, which from our point of view is too bad. We will be pushing Congress to reinstate this ASAP. In the bill that the Senate passed in December reauthorizing PHMSA’s pipeline safety program the Community Technical Assistance Grant program was contained and authorized in that bill. The House has not yet taken up that legislation. Beyond that we also need champions in Congress that deal with the actual appropriation of money to ensure that this program gets funded in the future. If you have thoughts, ideas, or want to be notified how you can help get this program funded in the future send me a note.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, but are interested, you can see what types of projects have been funded in the past at:

Anyway, we thought you would like to know



Good morning.  Please note that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113) did not appropriate funding for the Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) program.  Accordingly, PHMSA will not be soliciting applications or making TAG awards in FY 2016.  Future funding for the TAG program is contingent upon reauthorization of the program and an enacted appropriation providing funds.  Thank you for your commitment to pipeline safety and for your work advancing pipeline safety through the TAG.  If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.
Warm regards,
Karen Lynch
Senior Program Manager
Office of Pipeline Safety
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Ignition of Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines

Question of the week:

A fairly large, 24 inch I believe, natural gas transmission pipeline recently failed here in Pennsylvania, and I was surprised that it did not ignite. I thought when natural gas pipelines ruptured they normally catch fire. Can you tell me why this one didn’t?


I think you are referring to the recent William’s Transco failure in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania that is described in a newspaper account here. We can’t really tell you why that one did not ignite, because few specifics are known about that failure at this time, but it is not unusual for gas transmission pipeline to rupture or leak without igniting. It all really depends whether the gas coming out finds an ignition source, which normally in an open area such as where this rupture occurred would be from sparks from the pipeline and rocks flying around due to the pressure of the escaping gas, or even static caused by the rapidly escaping gas.


We took a quick look at all the significant natural gas transmission pipeline incidents in the past 5 years and came up with this graph that shows for the various types of pipeline incidents whether they ignited or not. As you can see more often than not pipelines do not ignite when there are incidents, even when the lines completely rupture. We suspect that part of the reason people think they ignite more often is that when they do the incidents are quite spectacular and tend to make the news, whereas when they don’t ignite people hear much less about them.



It is not unusual for these types of gas transmission pipelines to be operating at 800-1000 psi or more. Compare that to your car tires that operate at 30-35 psi and you get a sense of how much pressure is in these pipelines. Even just the pressure of the gas escaping can cause some impressive damage as the picture below shows. This picture shows a similar pipeline rupture in Washington State where there was no ignition. The crater is just from the force of the gas escaping. Notice the piece of pipe in the upper right hand corner of the picture. That is how far the force of the escaping gas threw that piece of heavy pipe.




Hope that helps answer your question.

Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Question of the dayI see a pipeline just spilled oil into the ocean near Santa Barbara, California. What can you tell me about the company that operates that pipeline and their safety record?


Thanks for the question. The cause and the size of the spill are still being determined, and the clean up will go on for weeks we are sure.  Here is a quick analysis of the company that operates that pipelines

Quick Analysis Plains Pipeline L.P pipeline that failed in California

With the spill yesterday into the Pacific Ocean from a pipeline operated by a subsidiary of Plains All American Pipeline L.P. we have received a lot of calls about why the pipeline failed and how Plains safety record compares to other companies operating similar pipelines. To date we have not seen any information about why the pipeline may have failed, so speculating on that would serve little purpose. The Plains All American Pipeline L.P. system that failed is referred to in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) database as Plains Pipeline L.P, and their operator identification number is 300. Plains Pipeline L.P. is only part of the entire Plains All American Pipeline system which according to their website includes 17,800 miles of pipeline.

According to PHMSA Plains Pipeline L.P operates 6437 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines in 16 states, with 480 miles of it in California.[1] In the past ten years they have reported 175 pipeline incidents,[2] which caused nearly $24 million of property damage. Of those 175 incidents only 11 were in California. There have been 20 enforcement actions initiated against this company resulting in $284,500 in fines.[3] Of those enforcement actions none of them were for issues specific to California.

Here is some information about the incidents this system has had in the past ten years. Plains

The Pipeline Safety Trust today took a look at the incident data from PHMSA for the past 5 years (2009 – 2013) and compared Plains All American’s incident rates to the national average. Here is what we learned.





The number of Incidents reported to PHMSA for all hazardous liquid pipelines is increasing, but incidents for crude oil pipelines are increasing at a faster rate. The number of incidents on crude oil pipelines operated by Plains Pipeline L.P. follows this trend, and is increasing faster then the national average.





Since the mileage of pipelines has changed over the past few years we also normalized this analysis by looking at the number of incidents per mile of pipeline. We found that the rate nationally for crude oil pipelines is twice that of other types of hazardous liquid pipelines, and that the rate of incidents/mile of pipe for crude oil pipelines operated by Plains Pipeline L.P. was about 14% higher than the national average for crude oil pipelines.




[1] http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/operator/OperatorIM_opid_300.html?nocache=3583#_OuterPanel_tab_1

[2] http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/operator/OperatorIM_opid_300.html?nocache=3583#_Incidents_tab_3

[3] http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/reports/operator/OperatorIE_opid_300.html?nocache=9182#_OuterPanel_tab_2

New Smart Pig – Question of the Week Series

Hi all,

Today we will be starting a new series on the Smart Pig Blog where we will answer the “Question of the Week.” These will be actual questions we receive from the public, local governments and the media, and will cover a whole range of pipeline subjects. To make this work we need to continue to receive good questions, so please feel free to send your questions to info@pstrust.org.


As time goes on we will be categorizing these questions to create an indexed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on our website where people can hopefully easily find answers to their question whenever they wish.


On our website we already have a series of 11 briefing papers that cover a variety of general pipeline issues. We will be updating all of those soon. The current briefing papers include:

Natural Gas Pipelines – The Basics

Hazardous Liquid Pipelines – The Basics

The statutes, regulations, consensus standards, and best practices

The Alphabet Soup of Players in Pipeline Safety

Considering Risk

Excavation Damage Prevention

The Need For Better Planning Near Pipelines

Pipeline Routing and Siting Issues

Integrity Management Rules

Cost Benefit Analysis

Emergency Planning


Over the next couple months we would like to add 3-5 more briefing papers to this collection. We really want to produce information that people find helpful, so if you have ideas for new briefing papers please pass them along. Some of the ideas we are kicking around right now are:

• Where to find pipeline information
• How to get an agency to answer your questions
• What do states do regarding pipeline safety and what authority do they have
• Emissions from natural gas pipelines
• How does a good idea become law


Between the new indexed FAQs and the updated and expanded briefing papers we hope people will be able to find what they need to better understand the pipelines that already run through their communities or the ones being proposed.


Let us know if you have ideas or questions.





P.S. – Note on the right we have added a place where you can input your email to subscribe so you will get notices when there are new posts on this Smart Pig Blog

What do you get for a million gallon spill, a billion dollar clean up, and four years?

The fourth anniversary of the Enbridge Line 6B rupture and spill into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River is today, July 25, although the source of the spill was not determined until July 26. We wanted to take a bit of a retrospective look at the spill and its aftermath to see what, if anything, has changed about pipeline safety, what has been learned, and what remains the same as ever.


For a reminder of the circumstances of the spill itself, we highly recommend a review of the full NTSB report on the incident. For the sake of brevity, we quote here only the Executive Summary:

Enbridge Pipeline


On Sunday, July 25, 2010, at 5:58 p.m., eastern daylight time, a segment of a 30-inch-diameter pipeline (Line 6B), owned and operated by Enbridge Incorporated (Enbridge) ruptured in a wetland in Marshall, Michigan. The rupture occurred during the last stages of a planned shutdown and was not discovered or addressed for over 17 hours. During the time lapse, Enbridge twice pumped additional oil (81 percent of the total release) into Line 6B during two startups; the total release was estimated to be 843,444 gallons of crude oil. The oil saturated the surrounding wetlands and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Local residents self-evacuated from their houses, and the environment was negatively affected. Cleanup efforts continue as of the adoption date of this report, with continuing costs exceeding $767 million. About 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. No fatalities were reported.


As we look back, here’s what we see:

  • Enbridge has now spent something over a billion dollars cleaning upKalamazoo River Spill the area affected by the spill, and the work, while reportedly nearing completion, is ongoing. Much of the difficulty in cleaning up the spill resulted from the fact that the oil spilled was a variety of diluted bitumen, much of which sinks in water, particularly when exposed to the sediments and currents found in a flooding river system. Scientists working on the cleanup acknowledge that there will always be some oil in the sediments. As sediment is disturbed, it is likely there will continue to be some oil sheen on the water.
  • PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order (CAO) on the entire Lakehead system (of which Line 6B is a part), but in spite of apparent concerns sufficient to cause PHMSA to require an ongoing third party auditor of Enbridge’s operations, the public has not been told of the identity of that auditor, any recommendations that may have been made, or the degree of success in implementing any such suggestions.
  • Enbridge chose not to try to repair and restart the pipeline known as 6B that ruptured. After many integrity digs along the line, each of which inconvenienced the landowner whose property was dug up, Enbridge announced instead that it would “replace” Line 6B, by which they meant that they would put a second, larger pipeline in the same right of way: exchanging the use of a 30 inch line for a 36 inch line and more than doubling the daily throughput capacity, while leaving the old Line 6B in the ground, with no current plans for its use. Thus began three years and countinLine 6b Landowner disruptiong of disruption, inconvenience, uncertainty, noise, vibration, stress and mess for the residents of the Line 6B right of way. The experience of these landowners and those along other newly constructed lines has raised questions of whether land agents (employees or contractors) should be bound by a code of ethics, how to increase the on-the ground oversight there is by PHMSA of new pipeline construction, and how to provide landowners with better recourse than paying a lawyer and resorting to court to enforce the terms of easements and other contracts with operators.
  • Many people in the area complained of health effects in the immediate aftermath of the spill, with a significant number complaining of chronic effects. The health departments and first responders were entirely unprepared to answer questions, provide advice or make immediate evacuation decisions, largely because they lacked access to the necessary air quality monitors in sufficient numbers to provide the necessary data. PHMSA does not require operators to include anything about air quality monitoring equipment availability in their spill response planning regulations, and to our knowledge has no plans to do so. An astounding bit of reporting following the Exxon spill in Mayflower, Arkansas also pointed out the lack of any common regulatory maximum standard for benzene exposure to the public, a regulatory vacuum that continues today.
  • Of the many safety concerns and formal recommendations that the NTSB pointed out in its report, precious few, if any, of them have been resolved. PHMSA has yet to propose any substantive new safety rules for hazardous liquid lines or the spill response plans they must produce, landowners have suffered for years, residents’ health has been affected for years, and the environmental damage done is still under repair. Moreover, because PHMSA won’t make public its interactions with Enbridge following the issuance of the CAO on the Lakehead system, the public doesn’t know what changes the regulator or third party auditor has requested or how the operator has responded. That is, how will the public know whether PHMSA and the operator have truly resolved the “systemic deficiency in the company’s approach to safety” identified and enumerated in the NTSB report?

But for those of you who insist on finding some hope, some hint of a silver lining, here’s our list:


  • Many of the political leaders in the Great Lakes region have been made aware of the vulnerability of the region to spills from the many liquid pipelines running through the region, Michigan’s Attorney General has established a task force on pipeline safety (but it has yet to produce any meaningful action) and several members of the Congressional delegation have expressed concern about various aspects of the safety of liquid lines in the region.
  • Several states (MN, NH and an expansion in CA) – having witnessed the Enbridge spill, recognized, as the NTSB did, the weaknesses in the PHMSA spill response planning program and the vulnerability of their own resources – have enacted legislation that will result in state rules requiring effective spill response planning for liquid pipelines under the Oil Pollution Act. We hope these states will follow the lead of the State of Washington and allow for public notice and comment on these plans before they are approved.
  • Congress paid enough attention to the concerns about transporting diluted bitumen through pipelines previously used for conventional crude oil that they directed PHMSA to complete a study about the risks of doing so in the last program reauthorization. PHMSA contracted with the National Academy of Science to produce a first phase of the required study in 2012. The scope of that study was unnecessarily narrow, only reviewed existing data, and did not consider the seriousness of the consequences of dilbit transport. The PHMSA Administrator recently announced that PHMSA will be undertaking a second phase of the study to look at those consequences. We hope that PHMSA will seek and heed public comment on the scope of this second phase so the study can be completed without unnecessary delay from overly constraining the scope a second time.
  • The spate of tragic pipeline failures (including San Bruno, Allentown, Philadelphia, Marshall, Mayflower, Harlem and others) has raised the public’s awareness of the risks of pipelines and forced the news media to learn how to report on those risks. For the first time (as far as we know), a Pulitzer Prize was awarded for coverage of a pipeline failure. The Pulitzer committee commended the Inside Climate News team of three reporters for their seven-month investigation and “rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines”. Nationally, media coverage of pipelines has increased dramatically in both volume and quality.
  • In a manifestation of an industry habit – the phenomenon we refer to as creating “accidental activists” – the Enbridge spill created a whole bunch of them in the Great Lakes region, two of whom we’re now proud to have on our Board of Directors. We now have four members of our Board with strong ties in the Great Lakes region. We expect this group and others in the region will continue to hold Enbridge and other operators accountable and to raise the profile of pipeline safety issues at home and nationally.

Why the Bellingham story must continue to be told

It’s the 15-year anniversary of the Bellingham pipeline tragedy, and I just want to think about something else. I don’t want to talk about what happened. And I certainly don’t want to have to try to make sense of it, or explain how something good has come from it. Three boys are still dead and for some reason the crying starts easier now than it did 15 years ago. Do we have to go through this all again? Can’t we just move on? What’s the point?


For 15 years now it has been my job with the Pipeline Safety Trust to relive this tragedy on a regular basis for others who didn’t live through it but who need to hear it. I’ve told it to the U.S. Congress many times. I have stood in fancy hotel ballrooms from Calgary to Houston and told it to the executives who run the pipeline companies. I have told the story to ranchers and farmers in grange halls and community centers across the Great Plains, and to concerned citizens in school gymnasiums from Oregon to Michigan. When a pipeline problem occurs somewhere I tell it to the local reporters. No matter the crowd, people always listen intently, often uncomfortably, trying to understand how such a terrible thing could happen. Aren’t pipelines safe? How safe is safe?


Pipelines really are quite safe compared to so many other activities. Over a half million miles of large transmission pipelines in this country cheaply and efficiently move the huge quantities of fuels that so many of us have come to demand. Over the past 15 years they have only killed or injured someone on average once every 10 days. We can only wish that our highways and schools could be so safe.


On the other hand, we still have those three dead boys here in Bellingham. The following year an entire extended family of 12 were killed by a pipeline while camping in New Mexico. Five workers were killed in California in 2004 while working near a pipeline. An elderly woman and her granddaughter were killed in their front yard in Mississippi in 2007 when a propane pipeline failed. A 47-year-old man driving down an interstate highway in Louisiana was killed when a natural gas pipeline under the highway exploded. Eight dead in San Bruno, a million gallons of oil in a river in Michigan, 3 dead in Philadelphia, 5 dead in Allentown, 8 dead in Harlem – the tragedies just roll on. How safe is safe?


In many instances the dead are mentioned, but the news stories rapidly move to the effects on the price of fuel farther down the pipeline if the pipeline is not back in service quickly. The message between the lines seems to say, “sorry you folks are dead, but we’ve got cars to drive, businesses to run, and homes to heat. Accidents happen. America runs on oil and natural gas.” Then some local reporter finds the Pipeline Safety Trust’s website, or receives an email from us out of the blue, and the story begins to change. How safe is safe?


If greater safety can continue to come from the Bellingham tragedy perhaps it will come from our unique ability to hold onto our story, and the stories of those other tragedies, and make sure they are not forgotten or ignored. Great progress has been made toward that end.


When new pipelines are being proposed those nearby now ask – but what about Bellingham? When Congress talks about pipeline safety budgets or regulations they now ask – but what about Bellingham? Even the pipeline industry seems to understand that the story of Bellingham needs to be revisited over and over if greater safety is to be realized. How safe is safe?


The story of Bellingham has been told in many places and that story has changed things. Laws have been enacted, more information has become available, pipeline safety has increased, safety cultures have improved, and other tragedies have likely been avoided.


I know that much has been accomplished by the retelling, over and over of the Bellingham story. I hope that everyone in Bellingham and around the country will join us today to remember the story again, and to show others that while we are tired of the story it is still important.


I certainly do realize that the retelling of the story is important, but sometimes, especially around June 10th, it just doesn’t seem like quite enough. Three boys are still dead and for some reason the crying starts easier now than it did 15 years ago.


Memorial Cairns