Pipeline safety enforcement is still lacking

By Katherine Pfleger

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal pipeline safety regulators have not implemented dozens of recommendations and some requirements from the National Transportation Safety Board or certain elements of pipeline safety laws, according to a report from congressional investigators.

However, the Office of Pipeline Safety has made significant efforts recently to improve its responsiveness, the report from the General Accounting Office said. The report was released Wednesday.

The pipeline safety office, part of the Transportation Department, regulates the safe operation of nearly 2.2 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines that crisscross the country.

The GAO said the pipeline safety office has not fully acted on 11 statutory requirements found in pipeline laws that significantly improve safety. Several of those requirements date from before 1993.

Though the report said the pipeline safety office has made some progress in the past year, "the agency estimates that it will take from several months to more than a year to complete actions on all" the items cited.

One involves requiring pipeline safety operators to create management plans for pipelines that run through sensitive areas such as population centers.

In addition, the NTSB said the pipeline safety office had not completed action on 44 of its recommendations as of Sept. 1.

"OPS continues to have the lowest rate of any transportation agency for implementing recommendations from the safety board," the report said.

Pipeline safety office officials told the GAO they believe the agency’s progress is greater than the safety board’s records indicate.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who requested the report with Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said the news is mixed, but nevertheless means Congress needs to pass a comprehensive pipeline safety bill and provide adequate funding to implement the new statutes.

"We needed strong pipeline safety legislation before Sept. 11, and we need it after," Larsen said in a reference to the East Coast terrorist attacks.

A gasoline pipeline rupture in Bellingham in June 1999 released 229,000 gallons of fuel into Whatcom Creek, causing a devastating fireball.

Liam Wood, 18, was killed along with two 10-year-old boys, Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas.

An interstate natural gas pipeline exploded near Carlsbad, N.M., in August 2000, killing 12 members of two extended families camping together along the Pecos River.

No one at the pipeline safety office or the Transportation Department was available to comment on the report. However, the GAO report said department officials generally agreed with a draft of the report.

"They stated that OPS is taking a long-term, strategic approach to address safety goals by improving pipeline integrity and preventing damage to pipelines," the report said.

Officials told the GAO this approach is better than responding to requirements and recommendations individually.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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