Bill Proposed to Improve Pipeline Safety Sits in U.S. Senate

Following high-profile oil pipeline accidents in the U.S., Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Jay Rockefeller IV of West Virginia proposed legislation to improve the safety of the pipeline network that crosses the nation. Despite strong bipartisan and industry support, however, the bill has sat in the Senate since early this summer as legislators decide which process the bill should go through.

According to the Courier-Journal, the reauthorization bill contains many new safety provisions for pipelines, including:

  • Higher civil penalties for violation of pipeline safety regulations
  • New civil penalties for obstruction of government investigations
  • New safety regulations for digging near utilities and pipelines
  • New requirements for shut-off valves in new pipelines
  • Increased numbers of safety officials and pipeline inspectors

The safety regulations would continue being administered by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which carries responsibility for overseeing the 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and hazardous materials pipelines throughout the U.S.

In May, the proposed legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Senate Democrats would like to expedite passage of the bill. However, deviating from normal debate-and-vote procedures with the legislation would require unanimous approval again, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has objected, stating that debate on the bill should occur.

The bill’s new and enhanced regulations were created after major oil pipeline accidents shocked the nation, particularly the San Bruno, California, pipeline explosion in which eight people were killed just over a year ago. Because the consequences of an accident can be catastrophic, Sen. Lautenberg said, “this bill would help to ensure the safety and efficiency of our pipeline network.”