This week Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced legislation to hold pipeline operators accountable for destructive and deadly pipeline accidents in the US. The proposed Prosecuting Irresponsible Pipeline Explosions (PIPE) Act makes pipeline operators responsible for clear misconduct. This would previously have gone unprosecuted due to difficulties in the requirements for prosecution, but PIPE would make the criminal liability standard stricter.

“For years, communities which fall victim to destructive and deadly pipeline accidents have been denied justice,” said Congresswoman Hahn. “Pipeline operators have been able to walk away with nothing more than administrative fines. We have to hold pipeline operators accountable. Fines of a few thousand dollars are nothing more than the cost of doing business for these companies and are not adequate incentive for pipeline safety.”

“When a pipeline operator like PG&E has documented ignorance of critical safety failures, there should be consequences,” said Congresswoman Speier. “The current standards of liability mean PG&E can laugh off a criminal case that led to the death of eight of my constituents in San Bruno. There must be repercussions for reckless actions that endanger the lives of anyone living above a pipeline.”

Currently for a pipeline operator to be prosecuted they must have been found to be acting “knowingly and wilfully”, making criminal wrongdoing incredibly difficult to prove as many pipeline accidents are linked to poor maintenance, negligence, and badly kept documentation. In March 2016 the US Department of Transportation’s Inspector General recommended the PIPE Act to better protect communities by stricter enforcing of pipeline safety regulations. He also stated that there have been very few pipeline safety prosecutions due to the difficulty in establishing a criminal violation. The PIPE Act would add to the standards for criminal wrongdoing by qualifying carelessness, poor maintenance, and other issues as components of a criminal charge.

After a string of high profile pipeline leaks and spills in recent months (Keystone, Magellan, Petroperu) the accountability of human and environmental damage is a topic at the forefront of debate in Congress. Pipeline operators need to be proactive in ensuring they have the latest and most accurate rupture detection methods. It is important to have a Leak Detection System (LDS) that is capable of differentiating between a leak and a rupture, as API 1175 recommends immediate shut down in the event of a rupture.

By: Atmos International
Date: 11 October 2019