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Will Congress Improve Pipeline Safety?

September 23, 2010

The recent natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA and Michigan oil pipeline spills have made it clear that there is a real problem with pipeline safety in this country.

Plains Justice has repeatedly pointed this out, in our Use of Substandard Steel in the U.S. Pipeline Industry report, our correspondence with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (the federal agency that regulates oil and natural gas pipelines), and our interviews with news reporters (a few links below).

Oil and Gas Pipeline Disasters Fail to Spur Bill Bolstering Oversight, New York Times (Greenwire), 9/22/10

Despite Accidents, Pipeline Info is Elusive, Associated Press, 9/21/10

Critics Fault Oil and Gas Pipeline Regulator’s Industry Ties, New York Times (Greenwire), 9/17/10

Concern Mounts over Oil Pipeline Safety, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/1/10

Congress is considering action and will discuss pipeline safety today beginning at 2 pm ET. Live webcast is available through the link. Sadly, the people scheduled to testify are almost all industry representatives, with just Rick Kessler, Vice President of Pipeline Safety Trust, representing the public-interest NGO community.

Meanwhile, TransCanada continues to do PR about pipeline safety. This story raises a question: if a pipeline safety drill ends before completion due to a thunderstorm, what is going to happen if a real emergency happens in less than perfect weather? Thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, and giant hail are not rare events on the Great Plains.

We also still don’t know how many Keystone pipeline leaks there really have been. The three known leaks were publicized only because members of the public learned about them by checking South Dakota’s public database. Not every state the Keystone pipeline passes through makes leak records easily accessible.

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